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updated: 8/21/2014 11:29 PM

Anti-bullying campaign gets big boost from senator, former Bear

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  • Video: Anti-bullying campaign

  • Former Bears lineman James "Big Cat" Williams, left, and Sen. Mark Kirk compare hand sizes Thursday in Libertyville during the recording of a public service announcement about cyberbullying.

       Former Bears lineman James "Big Cat" Williams, left, and Sen. Mark Kirk compare hand sizes Thursday in Libertyville during the recording of a public service announcement about cyberbullying.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

  • Former Bears lineman James "Big Cat" Williams, left, joins Sen. Mark Kirk in Libertyville to film a public service announcement about cyberbullying.

       Former Bears lineman James "Big Cat" Williams, left, joins Sen. Mark Kirk in Libertyville to film a public service announcement about cyberbullying.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer

 
 

Even a huge guy like former Bears lineman James "Big Cat" Williams knows how it feels to be bullied in school.

"I wasn't always this size," said the 6-foot, 8-inch, 300-something pound Pro Bowl offensive tackle who played for the Bears from 1991 to 2002.

Williams was at the Libertyville Sports Complex on Thursday to help U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, a self-described "former nerd" in school, spread the word about the dangers of cyberbullying.

They teamed up to make a public service announcement to be produced by Kirk's staff that will run on Kirk's website, www.kirk.senate.gov, YouTube and possibly local cable.

Kirk has targeted cyberbullying and the potential dangers of apps, such as Yik Yak and Snapchat, with input from two of his advisory committees.

"We are going to be working carefully with Google to make sure it's easy for parents and children in Illinois to control these sites to make sure they're much less of a danger to your child," Kirk said before the filming.

The 18-member Women's Advisory Board has been researching bullying for the past year.

"With social media, bullying is ever present now and it needs to stop," said Gina Arquilla DeBoni, an attorney and advisory board chairwoman.

Kirk's Student Leadership Advisory Board, comprised of 30 high school students from northern Illinois, has been working on the campaign since this spring.

"Cyberbullying is way more prevalent than verbal bullying these days," said Ryan Goldsher, a senior at Glenbrook North High School and president of Kirk's student committee.

"There's a lot more awareness of it and a lot more being done about it," added Colleen Keefe, the group's vice-president and a Wheeling High School senior.

Williams, whose Big Cat Charities works with women, children and the homeless, agreed to help Kirk spread the word about bullying as a favor to Delana Price-Johnson, his business manager and a member of the Women's committee.

The father of a 12-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl said he was "pushed around, beat up, (and) hassled," as a youngster but couldn't tell anyone, although he knew something had to be done.

"Being in that situation, knowing how it feels to be in that situation, it really makes me feel like I have the ability to help, can help and will help," Williams said.

The theme of the message was bullies come in all shapes and sizes and the behavior often starts at home.

But after several takes, Kirk dispensed with the script.

"Let Big Cat and I talk," he told staff members. He asked if Williams had advice for parents.

"It's hard, but you can see changes in your child," Williams said. Kirk, a Republican who co-sponsored proposed bullying legislation with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, asked Williams if he thought government could help.

"I think it starts at home, whether it be with the parent or the child's educator," Williams said.

"Someone has to see the difference. There's no guarantees this child will speak up to be heard and that's half the problem."

The spot is scheduled to air in late September or early October.

@dhMickZawislak

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