Sports Team Wins 91-0: Is it Bullying?

When a high school football team won a game 91-0, a parent from the losing team filed a complaint against the coach, claiming it was bullying. Was it? I sat down with the amazing folks at Good Morning America to discuss.

What is bullying? Most of us know that bullying is a conflict that consists of at least two or three participants:

  • The Bully: the person initiating the aggression
  • The Bullied (the Victim): the person on the receiving end of the aggression
  • The Bystander (the Onlooker): the person (usually people) standing by and watching the aggression

Bullying used to be thought of as the physical acts of the biggest school yard boy who pummeled the weak kid on the playground, stuffed him into a locker, forced others to do his school work or stole their lunch money.

Now, bullying is defined as: Harassment, intimidation, or bullying is defined as any gesture, act (written, verbal, or physical), or electronic communication (i.e. through phone, computer, pager), that is perceived to be motivated by any actual or perceived characteristic (i.e. race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, distinguishing characteristic), that disrupts or interferes with school (on or off school property) or compromises the rights of other students.

But would we know bullying when we see it? How do we know the difference between bullying and what is considered normal social conflict? Let’s put it plainly.

Here’s how I explain bullying on Good Morning America:

A: AGGRESSIVE: Is it aggressive? Bullying feels like an attack.

B: BALANCE of power: Is the balance of power unequal? Bullying involves uneven power such that age, popularity. size, ability, clout and special needs can play a role.

C: CONSISTENT: Is this happening often or only once? Bullying involves a pattern of consistent incidents.

D: DELIBERATE: Is there an intention to harm, hurt or provoke? Bullying is intentional not accidental.

While social conflict and intense (uneven) sports competition can feel brutal, this, in my opinion is not bullying. The other team was attacking the ball, the plays and the win– but not the other team. There was an imbalance of skill and power, to be sure– but this was one game and nobody was deliberately trying to hurt or harm the other team’s feelings or moral. Nobody says this is easy– but we can’t call it bullying. Doing so plays down what bullying really is– and the kids who truly need the help.

Your thoughts?

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