Bella is a 5th grader who is battling a life-threatening blood disorder. Last year – as part of Team Impact which pairs children with serious illnesses with college athletic teams – Bella signed a “letter of intent” with the Denver University Division 1 women’s volleyball team. Bella helps out at volleyball practice, has a locker with her name on it, and is the team’s biggest cheerleader.
One symptom of Bella’s illness is hearing loss. She wears hearing aids. At her elementary school recently, a few classmates began bullying her about it.
Her “big sisters” on the DU volleyball team heard about the bullying and decided that “no one was going to mess with one of our family,” one player said. Nine of the college players showed up at Bella’s classroom the next day. Their unexpected visit cheered Bella up – and their presentation to Bella’s class emphasized that different is good, bullying is not.
The team reacted promptly to hearing about Bella’s mistreatment. They stood up and showed up to support their young “team mate” and to persuade Bella’s peers to be kind to everyone.
The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 USA survey found that over 27 percent of respondents have experienced bullying in the workplace. Respondents said that 56 percent of workplace bullying is initiated by bosses.
Worse, the study found that 72 percent of employers deny, discount, rationalize, encourage, or defend bullying.
The instituted offers solutions and resources for targets of abuse and for employers.
Others are standing up against bullying. A recent report in Sports Illustrated examined the prevalence of abuses of power by college coaches of their athletes. Bullying by coaches has been documented for decades. The difference today? The power of social media.
Last May, one football player shared his story of bullying by his coach on Twitter. His experience led to other athletes – current and former players of this coach – to add their experiences. “We had the exact same issues! Thanks for standing up!” one former player tweeted. The groundswell caused the college chancellor to initiate an investigation by outside attorneys. Within weeks, the report validated the abuse of players by the coach – and he was fired one week before the team’s opener.
Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity, has studied positive emotions for decades. In looking at bullying by college coaches, she explains, “in terms of bonding, loyalty, commitment to a team and personal development over time, negativity doesn’t work as well as positivity.”
Ohio State’s Dr. Ben Tepper has made studying abusive leadership in the workplace his specialty. When asked by the NCAA to compare coach-athlete relationships to his database of boss-employee relationships, Tepper found that abusive leadership is two to three times as prevalent in college sports as it is in workplaces.
Tepper explains, “the studies all say that there’s no incremental benefit to being hostile. Hostility always produces diminishing returns.”
When abusive treatment happens, when bullying happens, don’t look the other way. Stand up and show up. Point out the abusive behavior. Ask that it stop.
You may not fix the bullying behavior – but you’ll raise awareness that it’s happening. If enough of us stand up and show up, maybe we can reduce abusive leadership.
Photo © FotolEdhar – Dollar Photo Club. All rights reserved.