Athletes Can Prevent Youth Bullying

The epidemic of bullying at the Middle School and High School level takes a massive toll on the young victims. Estimates are that as many of 50 percent of students suffer degrading verbal, physical and social media harassment. Every day the press reports another horror story. The scars can lead to suicide, self-destructiveness, and a lifetime of impaired self-esteem. We owe it to our children to provide a safe environment for maturation. Students are singled out because of their looks, weight, gender, ethnicity, speaking patterns and taunted. It is time for this to change. I have joined a unique coalition of experts and organizations called Project HEAR Us to stop this scourge.

Athletes sit at the top of the status food chain on most of these campuses--they are the most admired and emulated figures. If instead of being the bullies they are the proponents of tolerance and acceptance, the culture of a middle school or high school can change. Project HEAR Us has designed a dynamic program, under the leadership of talented Executive Director Michael Ares, Dr. Susan Swearer and others, to enlist former and current professional athletes and collegiate athletes to teach the principles of fair play to younger athletes across the country. Changing the culture on campuses will need the help of Leagues, Conferences, Coaches, Corporate Sponsors to succeed. Those organizations and individuals can play a decisive role in protecting young children who can't protect themselves.

The core principle of our sports law practice over the last 42 years has been that athletes have a responsibility to serve as role models and trigger imitative behavior. Young people may tune out authority figures--not listening to parents, teachers, or administrators. An athlete has the power to permeate the perceptual screen these rebellious adolescents erect and deliver a powerful message. With the Heavyweight Boxing Champion Lennox Lewis, we designed a public service campaign, "Real Men Don't Hit Women." Middleweight boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya and 49ers QB Steve Young teamed up to promote, "Bigotry Is Not Fair Play." Athletes can lead the way. Rookies Paxton Lynch, Daniel Lasco, Seth DeValve, and Danny Vitale are going to do an anti-bullying PSA and participate in the program.

The athletic community needs to step up now to be the agents of change. The economic and emotional cost of bullying is enormous. Project HEAR Us can lead the charge.

First posted on Forbes.com