I owe John Degl an apology


Back when I was in high school, John Degl picked on me. We were in gym class when it first started. Somehow I dropped a ball during a game, and afterward he punched me in the head. Being a wuss, I cried.

In the ensuing years, I literally hid from John. I’d hear his voice or see him from afar, and I’d turn the other way and bolt. Was I soft? Absolutely. But John was a big wrestling dude who scared the living crap out of me.

Fourteen years after I graduated from high school I published my first book, The Bad Guys Won! It’s a chronicle of the 1986 New York Mets, and it begins with my memories of that year. The first paragraph reads as so:

In 1986 I was a fourteen-year-old freshman at Mahopac High School in upstate New York, probably not the biggest nerd around but certainly pathetic enough to crack the Top 10. If that weren’t bad enough, most weeks a school bully named John Degl would make sure to kick my books across the hallway floor, eliciting laughter from the general populace. It was the worst time of my life, and the one thing that kept me afloat was baseball.

I can lie and say Degl was absentmindedly tossed into the text. But he wasn’t. I’d carried that bullying experience with me for many years. I no longer hated John Degl or disliked John Degl, because I no longer knew John Degl. But I did hate—truly, truly hate—the experience of walking the halls in fear. It made much of my high school life miserable. Beyond miserable. So, was there a small part of me that relished the payback of outing a bully in a book that went on to sell more than 100,000 copies? Yeah, there probably was.

That said, was I right in doing so? Absolutely not. I never meant to hurt John Degl. To me, the reference was more humorous than anything else. But I also never stopped to think how he might feel. High school was a looooong time ago. We all did things we regret. All change. A bully in 1990 isn’t a bully in 2010. A geek in 1990 isn’t a geek in 2010. Not usually, at least. We morph. We evolve. We develop.

I bring this up because, in yesterday’s CNN.com column about my high school reunion, I again referenced John with the line, “John Degl beat me up.” It was included among a list of the miseries from back in the day, and it was totally and completely gratuitous.

Earlier today, I received an e-mail from one of John’s relatives, saying, basically, “Isn’t enough enough?” She’s right, I’m wrong. I mean it—she’s 100% right, I’m 100% wrong. After high school, John went on to a remarkable wrestling career at the University of Iowa. He has since become a top-level prep coach, as well as a husband and the father of three. According to his website, John now runs a school, Iowa Style Wrestling. Among the mission statements, it says, “The ultimate goal is the be a better person … and to grow as a human being.”

Maybe I should attend.

35 thoughts on “I owe John Degl an apology”

  1. I admire you for writing this and admitting you were wrong, but I’m curious to know if John Degl ever reached out to you and admitted he was wrong. If he has never done it then that’s an obvious reason why you did not let go of it.

  2. No, Jeff, you’re not wrong. Bullies need their comeuppance, whether it comes immediately or 20 years later. Screw him.

  3. I know this is completely off the subject, but what year was that picture taken? Would love to know if anyone can ID the people in it …

  4. It’s not like you started the ‘Let’s All Fling Poo at John Degl’ club. You’re a writer who wrote honestly about your experiences in high school – experiences which were miserable because of the actions of others.

    I’d say forgiveness is in order, but an apology from you? Uh… no.

  5. Never mind, found the list of Section 1 guys who would have been in that pic … thought I recognized Juan Carlos Garcia 🙂 Degl would have been just after “my time” there because I did not know the name.

  6. It’s cool that you are taking the high road, but really if John never reached out to you first to apologize why should you?? You are stating a true occurance that happened in your childhood that you were truly affected by. Sure, people change with age (which I’m sure you saw at your recent reunion) but still. There are strict anti-bullying rules now in school because kids are killing themselves after being tormented by clowns like this. Even worse now with technology and social networking sites.

    You are a good soul Sir and I think I am too, but If I had the chance to call out any of the countless bullies I dealt with out from the same HS we both attended just because I was different out in a public forum??? You are damn right I would.

    Regardless of how long ago it was, people gotta start taking responsibility for their actions.

    *steps off the soapbox*

  7. I would think if his relatives can reach you he could too. If I found out that somebody was still bothered by something I said in the past I would try and apologize. If thats not important to him maybe he still is a bully. Letting it go will help you, not him. Now your free to focus on the real ememy here, the Palins.

  8. Jeff, I enjoy your blog and have enjoyed your books. Having said that………..teenage bullies are wrong but they are teenagers. That is not an excuse for their behavior but they should be held to a different standard than an adult. You could have gained the same effect in your writing about this bully without using his name. I think your apology is warranted.

  9. My experience, people don’t change…once a bully, always a bully; it might manifest itself with a little more subtlety but it’s still there.

  10. I had my fair share growing up, and was one to my fair share. Some of those I’ve talked to and all is well. A few will never be forgiven and will never forgive me and I don’t care about those.

    A few were and are still miserable human beings. I would call them out in print but am not a journalist and doubt they read anything other than the price of a carton of cigs.

  11. I’m not exactly sure why you owe John an apology. He picked on you… He owes YOU one. Besides, what happened are facts, not conjecture. He bullied you, it bothered you, and that’s that. The event or events (it would seem) are not open to interpretation or revisionist history or wild speculation. has John ever said he was sorry? Did he even go to the reunion (I’m guessing no). It’s not like you’re dragging his good name through the mud, either. He was mean, and you got your “revenge” but putting his name in print? C’mon. You don’t owe him jack, Jeff.

  12. Jeff,

    I too was bullied and humiliated by one person for several years in High School. (Was so unhinged I actually pulled a knife on him at a dance – no one was hurt). Never really got over the situation, as I identified myself as a coward, and still do.

    That said, I try to remember that resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.

  13. Jeff, it’s not that I don’t enjoy your writing. I often find your takes on subjects to be interesting and thus I continue to read. If it bothers you to get the occasional negative comment, then disable comments. Once again, for someone who continually gripes about other people, situations, phenomena, etc, you are awfully sensitive when any criticism is pointed at you. Indeed, I never bash your writing or even opinions, but only your hypocrisy in attacking others in your writing when you are terrified of being criticized yourself.

    1. eric, you’re an odd guy. i’m not bothered by your criticisms. i just don’t understand why you’d subject myself to your drivel if you don’t even enjoy it. however, since you do, in fact, seem to enjoy it—bash away.

      (and just because someone is critical of others doesn’t mean he necessarily has thick skin. believe me, i wish mine were thicker. sadly, it’s paper, not steel).

      anyhow, thanks for reading. appreciated.


  14. I think this is beautiful. Maybe you just opened Johns eyes up. Maybe this story reached someone who was being bullied…but you most definlaty let go of any feelings you were harboring. Good you for Pearlman, keep evolving!

  15. Jeff – This article seems like a total whiff. It’s like you’re allowing John Degl to bully you all over again *by proxy* (i.e., via his relative’s email). If he never reached out to apologize to you, then screw him. Click the link in comment #22 and you’ll see the guy is still as big (or bigger) of a jerk as when you encountered him in school.

    (Just for the record, I’m speaking as someone who *wasn’t* bullied in school.)

  16. I am trying to figure out if “John Fan” who posted the three-page link which I just spent the last 15 minutes reading is being sardonic with his screen name or actually thinks that thread casts John in a positive light, rather than pretty much confirming everything you wrote here, and in the past, Jeff …

    In other news, how awesome that Juan Torres is the new head wrestling coach at Mahopac. Covered him in high school along with Juan Carlos Garcia who, I think, is actually his uncle though they were best friends/same age.

    I may have to subscribe to that forum John Fan linked so I can keep up with Section 1 wrestling news … seems like all the guys I knew as kids are head coaches or dads of wrestlers now. When did I get old?

  17. Not that anyone cares but my bad, confused Torres with Jimenez … though I did cover Torres too 🙂 … *emilylitellavoice* never mind *endemilylitellavoice*

  18. My kid wrestled under him as a coach.
    He is still a bully and can’t seem to control himself. He admits it, and seems to think that acknowledging it, erases his mistakes.
    Wonder if he will let his kids get by with that. We left his club because of him – not so much for the bullying but because of his unprofessionalism.

  19. i wrestled under john degl it was hell. i have never had a worse experience in my life. he was kicked out of coaching at John Jay High school because he verbally abused a kid. Also he was known for using a hockey stick to hit kids if they didnt do there push ups low enough

  20. hes a good couch he doesnt abuse anyone thats just his way of coaching an dobviously it work he has the most section champs and state champs in section one than anyother coach

  21. Jeff,
    I know Degl well and I would not worry about this nor feel like you owe him an apology. Sure, he did a lot of great things in life after HS – who cares. That does not change the fact that he pciked on you and pushed around a lot of other kids then and later in life and got away with b/c he was a big dude.. He never thought that one day his bullying would one day come back and bite him in the a$$. Apologize to no one. What comes around, goes around. Honestly if u saw John today, I am sure he would reach out and say he was sorry.

  22. John a good guy if you want to wrestle he’ll push your kids as much as he can, so they will be better. Sure he yells a lot, but do what me and my son do. Drive home and make fun and laugh about it. Its not like he coming by for dinner. My son missed a year with John club but I plan on going back after this season. You people need to get over it.

  23. Jeff
    It is probably good for your growth and John’s that you aired all this out. I came to know John early on in his coaching of young men. He brought to them the “art” of wrestling,taught to him from the most famous wrestler in the world, Dan Gable. If this was Karate, it would be as if one was schooled by the founder pioneer, Higoshianna. John uses the sport to mold boys into men as is dicated from the boy himself. If the boy wants to leave the school, the door is open. It is a tough sport, but in time, it creates a person who understands conflict greater than understood as a boy. The wrestling “match” is a game fought within the self and played out in moves and counter moves mirroring life. John is not the youth, bully, he was to you anymore. I’m sure, as I am a close friend of his, that he would act differently had he been coached by Dan Gable, in high school. It is noble of you to extend the olive branch, but understood by myself, and I’m sure by John, that you had the opportunity and went for the “pin”, to secure the victory for yourself in YOUR wrestling match of life, by exposing his behavior. Continued success for you!
    My best

  24. Angelo Notaro was a classmate of John Degl and Angelo told me John tried to bully him, but he Angelo beat him to the punch and there was no more bully John Degl. Notaro is now an amateur boxer and co-anchor with me on Comcast USA TV Talk News Sports Live in Danbury, CT. John Degl had a fourth baby – premature – baby girl has our prayers.

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