Bullies: They’re not just in middle school

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In this Tuesday, March 12, 2013 file photo, Rutgers head coach Mike Rice calls out to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against DePaul at the Big East Conference tournament, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

In the Texas case, school district administrators found no grounds for the complaint, and many observers agreed.

“Of course it’s not bullying. That’s ridiculous! It’s a game. It has people who lose. That’s a fact of life,” said Smith.

Which is not to say that bullying or other types of personal intimidation don’t happen in sports. Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for screaming at his players, calling them names and kicking and shoving them.

But under normal circumstances, absent that type of behavior, losing in sports can actually be good for kids, says Nadine Connell, who teaches criminology in the University of Texas at Dallas. “It teaches you the mechanism for coping with losing, in a protected way, so that when it happens in a more serious situation — like losing your job — you’ve learned to deal with disappointment.”

Leichtling’s reaction to the Texas football game? “The coach of the good team did what he could” to mitigate the humiliation of the other guys. “If the behavior of the winning team was cruel, nasty, rubbing it in, I would call that bullying,” he said. But that’s not what happened.

He noted that there are other remedies for lopsided victories in kids’ sports: Parents might lobby for a mercy rule or rearrange leagues so weak teams don’t face powerhouses.

Connell says the football bullying charge raises another question: “How do we continue to use a term that we know represents a lot of emotional pain in such a way that it doesn’t get watered down and make people roll their eyes at every little thing we call bullying?”

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