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posted: 11/6/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: NFL bullying case is a teaching moment

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The Daily Herald Editorial Page

Clearly the timing couldn't be better for Indian Prairie Unit District 204 and its parents council to host a bullying prevention presentation tonight at Crone Middle School in Naperville.

The topic is getting much attention on a national stage as the Miami Dolphins and the National Football League deal with charges of bullying and hazing by one player against another.

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This is a teachable moment for our schools, parents and students that bullying is a serious problem that won't be tolerated.

The Miami case is bullying in the extreme -- reports of racist and threatening voice mails and texts are part of the charges -- but its seriousness and the fact it involves two adult men underlines the importance of early prevention.

That's why Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300's anti-bullying program is one to emulate. They've created a Safe School Ambassador Student Program, recruiting "socially influential" students to speak out, take action when necessary and diffuse potential altercations.

Breaking a culture of silence is a key prevention tool. As the NFL case highlights, silence is not golden.

Perhaps those Dolphins players should listen to what 13-year-old Tre Burnett, a Carpentersville Middle School student, told the Daily Herald's Lenore T. Adkins: "I was usually the bystander; I was just standing by and just watching as the target got bullied. But after I got the training in the (ambassador program), now I am the one that helps and stands up for the party."

Beautiful.

Jarrett Payton -- son of the late Bears Hall of Famer Walter Payton -- has made anti-bullying a key focus of his foundation and recently spoke at Schaumburg High School. On his website, he touts a message his father taught him: "We are all more similar than we are all different."

Unfortunately for the Dolphins' Jonathan Martin, his perceived differences from his teammate, Richie Incognito, were apparently the catalyst for bullying.

Were coaches aware? Did other players turn their backs? Did Incognito not understand the effect of his actions or did he figure he was untouchable because he assumed the case would never see the light of day?

All questions for the Dolphins and the NFL to answer. But youth, high school and college coaches need to look inward themselves and decide if that kind of culture exists on their team.

Far-fetched? Former Maine West coach Michael Divincenzo lost his job and will be on trial in December on charges related to a hazing scandal involving soccer players.

Bullying happens every day -- in schools, locker rooms, workplaces. We must be vigilant. We must stand up for those who either can't or won't stand up for themselves.

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