On May 23, about 250 students from 11 D.C. public and charter schools met Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner at Nationals Stadium, and about 25 of them joined Turner on the field shortly before the start of the game between the Nationals and the San Diego Padres.
In addition to talking about baseball, Turner talked to the middle and high school students about a subject he said he knows about personally – bullying and a program sponsored by Major League Baseball and the ESPN TV sports network to prevent bullying in the nation’s schools.
“I think two things,” Turner told the students, according to a joint statement released by the Nationals and MLB. “Be yourself, you are who you are and be proud of it,” he said. “And rely on your friends and your family.”
As the students listened intently, Turner added, “A lot of people that bully or whatever it may be, people that don’t know you, classmates or a lot of stuff is from people who don’t know you and what your values and morals are.”
Joining Turner in the gathering with the students that day was Billy Bean, a gay former Major League Baseball player who now serves as MLB’s Vice President for Social Responsibility and as Special Assistant to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
The students’ visit with Turner and Bean at Nationals Park and the invitation they received to watch the Nationals game that day was part of a new program launched in January 2017 by Major League Baseball, ESPN, and ESPN’s X-Games sports competition called Shred Hate.
The Shred Hate program included visits by school kids to the ballparks in three participating cities during its first-year launch – D.C., Chicago, and Minneapolis. But the major component of the program took place in the approximately 35 schools in those cities along with others in Colorado that were selected for the 2017-2018 school year.
A non-profit San Francisco-based organization called No Bully, which has been training schools on how to put in place bullying prevention and eradication efforts for more than a decade, has been retained by MLB and ESPN to carry out the Shred Hate program in the selected schools.
“The No Bully System is a set of interventions to prevent and stop bullying and cyberbullying in school and after school programs,” according to a March 2018 statement released by ESPN. “The school leadership team receives coaching on how to lead school culture change,” it says.
“No Bully staff trainings motivate and teach school faculty how to interrupt and stop student bullying, and parents are trained to support the school’s anti-bullying initiative,” the statement says.
On its own website No Bully says it has developed and refined its bullying prevention system through years of partnering with schools across the country. It says schools that implement the ‘No Bully System’ are solving 90 percent of their bullying incidents. A key component of the system, according to No Bully, is direct involvement of the students who become members of a school “solution team” that responds to bullying incidents.
“The school joins with parents to prevent student bullying and cyberbullying through building a culture where every student is accepted for who they are,” the group says.
Bean told the Washington Blade that Trea Turner is one of as many as a dozen MLB players that have so far interacted with students from the schools participating in Shred Hate in D.C., Chicago, and Minneapolis during the program’s first year. In addition to the Washington Nationals, the participating players were with the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins.
Several of the players, including Turner of the Nationals and Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton, have recorded videos that are being used as public service announcements, Bean said. He said the PSAs have been shown on the video screens at the ballparks as well as on some local TV stations.
“Every kid deserves go to school and have fun and just be themselves,” Buxton says in the PSA he recorded. “You know, there is no place in this world for bullying. Be proud of yourself. Be proud of the things that make you happy,” he says.
“It was important for me to let kids know you are somebody and to never give up because nothing’s impossible,” Buxton continues. “Together, let’s stop bullying. Choose kindness and shred hate.”
Asked whether the Shred Hate program, including its training programs in the schools, addresses the issue of anti-LGBT bullying, Bean said, “Absolutely. LGBT kids are persecuted and bullied at a higher percentage than those who don’t identify as LGBT.”
He added, “We would not have picked a partner that did not have a clear understanding of the time and place for those conversations” related to anti-LGBT bullying.
Lynne Seifert, a former school teacher and school administrator in Colorado who participated in the No Bully program in schools where she worked, now serves as No Bully’s partnership manager and coordinator for the Shred Hate program. During the past year she has visited schools in all three cities involved in Shred Hate, including some of the 11 D.C. schools, where she set up training sessions for teachers and administrators.
“We go in and we train the staff how to interrupt conflict and bullying in a very non-confrontational way,” Seifert told the Blade. “And we do that by using their social vision or their social contract,” she said, noting that the system encourages all students to agree to an unwritten “contract” and vision aimed at discouraging bullying and making it “cool” to be against bullying.
Seifert said that among the D.C. schools participating in the program were Washington Global Public Charter School, Center City Public Charter School, Washington Latin Public Charter School, Hardy Middle School and Hope Community Public Charter School.
Bean said Shred Hate officials conducted a survey of the principals at the 35 schools participating in the program this year in the three cities, and the results have been encouraging. Among other things, attendance at the schools increased an average of six percent over last year, he said.
“And they have decreased school suspensions by 50 percent,” said Bean. “They had a total of 175 detentions last year in those schools and they were down to only 47 this year,” he said. “So we’re seeing some across the board numbers” that indicate the program’s goal of “creating and sustaining a bully-free zone” is advancing, Bean said.
An MLB statement says the Shred Hate program was officially launched in January 2017 at the start of the X-Games in Aspen, Colo. The statement says among the schools in Colorado that became the first to participate in the No Bully System initiated by Shred Hate, incidents of bullying decreased by 94 percent.
Among the X-Games athletes participating in the Shred Hate program was U.S. Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy, who also has recorded an anti-bullying PSA. Kenworthy, who’s gay, became the subject of international news coverage in February during the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea when he kissed his boyfriend after completing a skiing competition.
He drew further attention when he declined an invitation by Vice President Mike Pence to meet, saying he disagreed with Pence’s and the Trump administration’s policies on LGBT issues.
“I think that Shred Hate is an awesome topic for X-Games to tackle,” Kenworthy said in the PSA he recorded. “In my later life when I was coming out I felt like I’ve been a victim of bullying, especially cyberbullying,” he said.
“So anyone out there who is experiencing bullying, remember your value. Remember your love. It’s a lot harder to go through bullying if you’re by yourself, so find an ally, talk to a teacher or parent or a friend,” he said while standing on a slope holding his skis.
Bean said the program expects to be in more than 50 schools and in three new cities for the 2018-2019 school year.
“MLB is extremely happy with the achievements of the Shred Hate Program after its first year,” Bean said. “We have worked very hard alongside our partners ESPN and No Bully and we have great optimism for the year two expansion of the program, and the potential to positively impact the lives of thousands of students,” he said.
“That success has only fortified our determination to grow the program and bring it to more MLB cities each year,” he said.