Bullies

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Weird stuff happened at the local 24 Hour Fitness tonight.

Was standing on the perimeter of the basketball court, waiting for next game. I looked up and saw one player pushing another player—hard—after a missed shot. The pusher then looked at me and said, “Hey, you wanna play?” Then he turned to the kid he shoved and said, “Get off the court! Get off!”

I refused to enter, and the moment passed. But it also stuck. At the conclusion of the game, I asked the guy who was pushed how old he was. “I turn 13 tomorrow,” he said.

“No way,” I replied. “Really?” (this was 10 pm on a court occupied by adults—some in their late teens, most in their 20s, some in their 30s, one, ahem, in his 40s)

“It’s true.”

I asked him about the person who hit him. “Is that your brother?”

No, he said. It was a guy he knew from the court. He apparently gets frustrated by the kid’s unwillingness to play defense. “Listen,” I said, “there’s no reason for you to take that shit. None at all. You’re here to play basketball and have fun.”

“I know,” he said. “But he’s older than me …”

This is the moment where I failed. I should have pulled the pusher aside and told him his behavior was inappropriate; that if I ever saw him bullying another player again, I’d report him to the gym and make certain he’d be an ex-member. That’s what I should have said … but I didn’t. The pusher was with a bunch of guys, and I momentarily imagined them jumping me as I walked to my car. I also didn’t fully know the relationship between pusher and pushee. Nobody else said anything, so perhaps it was no biggie.

Still, I couldn’t fully let it go. There was another kid there, age 17, who clearly knew both involved parties. I asked him what was going on, and he explained that the pusher doesn’t like the pushee; that a lot of people don’t like the pushee.

“But he’s 13,” I said. “Why aren’t you helping him? Do you like being bullied?”

“It’s hard,” he said. “It’s really hard.”

Before I left, I reported the incident to the staff. But it did little good. Next time, I need to speak up.

Next time, I need to practice what I preach to my children.

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