At fifteen yards I pull up just a bit to motion him on, waving with both hands. Wayne’s face gets even redder. He hesitates, then charges across the final yards running like a bull toward a red cape masquerading as gym shorts. At this moment, for Wayne, I cease to be a person and become simply a skinny, 120-pound irritant to be dealt with.
What happens next remains to this day the most perfect timing of any physical act I’ve ever attempted. Astonishingly, my spontaneous plan actually works.
At a distance I would guess to be no more than two or three yards I suddenly slide baseball style but a little more balled up, directly at his feet.
In this very short space he can’t change direction. He can only hit my coiled and somewhat protected body, tripping over me at full speed. With a quick glance behind and above me I can see Wayne, all 240 howling pounds of him, airborne and starting to flip over onto his back.
He lands hard. Everyone there hears what sounds like a belly flop in a swimming pool. Except the surface we’re on is hard packed dirt with a few patches of grass. There are not many visible places on his body that are not scraped and bleeding and undoubtedly some I can’t see.
He lies there for a short time with no one even asking how he is. Then he slowly gets up and begins chasing me for fifteen minutes. The flag football game is over and a new, far more interesting game has begun. I easily stay just out of his reach and I wonder why I didn’t use my greater speed and agility before.
The Physical Education instructor comes to the gym door, whistles us in and I am once again safely in an adult supervised environment as I change clothes and just barely let myself think of the inevitable consequence of my actions.
Just as I envisioned it he approaches me after the bell rings. I am resigned to what will undoubtedly be the most violent behavior that Wayne has ever directed my way. And I don’t even care. Not after what I saw. It will almost be worth it.
I said to him, “you had that coming, you know you did.”
To his credit, if you can credit a bully, he doesn’t beat me up. Instead, he apologizes for treating me the way he had over the past six months or so and tells me he absolutely respected what I did.
“You’re right, Buddy. I had that coming,” he says.
The next day Wayne asks me to join his high school fraternity. The other guys playing ball with me that day never look at me the same way again. On graduation day I get some knowing looks and a few minor head nods as I head up for my diploma.
That’s it. I manage to avoid a monumental ass kicking and the bully repents. A classic Hollywood ending that just happens to be true. But here is where the movie stops and gets rewound on the projector (remember, this is an old movie). We start back at the beginning and play it through in slow motion. What you see now is that everything I did was wrong. Everything.
I suffered in silence. I never told my parents, teachers or coaches. I never shared the pain with my friends. Even when there were witnesses and sometimes co-victims I held back from talking about it. And worst of all I played to his strength. Literally. I took him on in his own physically violent arena.
Two things made that situation possible. One, I got lucky and you can’t count on luck when it comes to a bully. Two, Wayne still had something in him, some thread of humanity that responded to my desperate act. And you definitely don’t want to count on that, either.
The good news is that school principals, teachers, counselors and coaches are far more on the alert today. Parents are hopefully more attuned to the bully problem, too. For the most part, the whole world is more enlightened. There are more places to turn.
The less than good news is that the new 21st Century American Bully has evolved, too. And there’s a good chance that he or she is more dangerous than ever with a lot more weapons at hand.
These 21st Century Bullies may carry a weapon of some sort, even a gun. They may be in a gang. They may have a technically savvy clique that attacks other kids on social media. They may spread lies and rumors and hatred throughout the school environment and beyond with the flick of the SEND button.
Go up against today’s bullies and they’re likely to retaliate in a way that Wayne, limited to his own bulk and fists, could never have imagined.
Today, the action I finally took, which gave me an undeniable sense of redemption and made my dad so proud when I finally told him about it, could be a gateway to horror.
Bobby Kipper and Bud Ramey have co-authored two books and numerous articles on the crisis in youth violence plaguing our culture, addressing “best practices” for making a difference in the gang crisis and bullying epidemic that is impacting an entire generation. Over 4,400 young people committed suicide last year, largely due to the bullying epidemic. Their books, No BULLIES : Solutions for Saving Our Children from Today’s Bully and No COLORS : 100 Ways to Stop Gangs from Taking Away Our Communities, offer advocacy for at-risk youth.
Bobby Kipper, Director and Founder of the National Center for the Prevention of Community Violence, is a career law enforcement officer with extensive experience in the area of preventing youth and community violence nationwide. His background includes working on a number of key national initiatives with the White House, Congress, and the Department of Justice.
Bud Ramey is the 2010 Public Affairs Silver Anvil Award winner of the Public Relations Society of America—the highest public affairs recognition in the world. His grassroots public affairs and humanitarian successes and advocacy for at-risk youth stretch across three decades.