By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 1, 2018
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Bullying is something many children encounter on a daily basis, but for one NFL player, bullying was something he wouldn't stand for growing up.
Steven McLendon, defensive tackle for the New York Jets, visited children at the Fort Rucker Youth Center during an anti-bully rally to spread the message that bullying of any way, shape or form is not OK.
"In high school and middle school, one thing I did not stand for was seeing someone get picked on," said McLendon. "If you see any of your peers (getting bullied), reach out to someone, talk to someone. If anything is going on that you're not comfortable with, say something to someone."
During the rally, the NFL player spoke to the children about his experiences growing up and his encounters with bullies. Since he was the big kid in school, bullies wouldn't confront him, but there were oftentimes where he had to confront bullies.
"My cousin was getting picked on by some older guys (in school) and I knew one thing for sure -- even though he's my family, I wasn't going to let anyone pick on him," he said. "He probably could have taken up for himself, but me knowing who I was, I stepped in. That's the same thing you guys can do."
Another way McLendon suggested the children can help combat bullying is by conquering their fears and learning to trust one another, so he had the children participate in a trust fall.
"When you don't trust somebody and you don't trust something, fear takes control of you -- that's how fear works," he said. "You can conquer fear each and every day with just a small gesture and by telling yourself you're going to be better today than you were yesterday."
By building that trust with others and speaking up when they see something isn't right, McLendon said the impact they can have on each other can be lifelong.
"Just a year ago, I ran into this guy from middle school and he introduced himself to me. He brought up an incident of something that happened in middle school with some kids that were jumping on him and beating him up, and I stepped in," said the NFL player. "We're talking about 16-17 years ago -- something so small, this man remembered who I was because I stepped in for him."
Simple acts like that have lasting impacts on people, he said, but taking action doesn't have to through direct intervention, added Sasha LaForge, youth center assistant director.
"When you are going through things like bullying, you have to say something to someone," she said. "Sometimes it might take a friend stepping in and saying something, but sometimes it may take you going to someone and saying, 'Hey, I need to talk to someone.'
"Bullying is a very serious thing," she continued. "There are so many things going on in people's lives where bullying is affecting people to cause them to either take their own life or take the lives of others -- we don't want to get to that place. We don't want anyone to feel that kind of isolation, rejection or hurt."
For many of the children, bullying is something they've either encountered themselves or seen others endure, and sometimes bullying can come from friends, as well, as Mckenzie Parks, military family member, found out.
"One experience for me was painful because it was somebody who was close to me," she said. "Something happened, and things were said and rumors were spread, so I went to Ms. LaShia (Brooks, youth center associate) and she talked with me and helped me get through everything. It made me feel like I wasn't the only one going through that, and I felt better by actually getting those feelings out."
For Ernest Elphage, military family member, having a person to talk to can make a world of difference.
"I feel like not everyone has the option to have someone to talk to, so we should make that effort," he said. "I think it's important for others to be aware, and if people see something, they should tell somebody about it or try to help -- provide a little more support and try to help them through it if they're going through something."