July 1982 – Deep South Georgia.
A young boy is riding shotgun with his grandfather in a white Chevrolet pickup. The pickup is distinct because of the brown race stripe on the left side of the truck. This stripe didn’t come from the factory. It came from genuine Red Man chewing tobacco after years travelling down highways, dirt roads, and throughout the farm.
This day, the two were heading to the feed and seed store to pick up some cattle feed. As they were riding, the grandfather wanted to talk about politics. While this conservative “Reagan Democrat” would mold the young man’s political views, the boy could not talk about politics that day.
As they pulled into the loading dock, the grandfather saw a tear drop from his 9-year-old grandson’s eye. He said, “Boy, what is wrong?” The boy’s shame and pain was just too much to hide.
He knew that in the next few weeks, football practice would begin again. He also knew that he would probably be on the same team as “the bully.” The bully was a nine-year-old kid as well; but much bigger. The bully would perceive the boy as weak and afraid of him.
He was correct on the second assumption; but not the first.
In 1981, after football practice, the bully would sometimes slap the boy in the face, push him down, or do anything else to try to produce a tear. While he would be successful in his bullying, the only tear that would be shed would be at that loading dock in South Georgia.
The boy told his grandfather the story. Afterwards, the man, who at 27 years old had been a part of the relentless assault on occupied Europe and the Reich during World War II and had been involved in a fistfight or two during his life, said this:
“A bully is nothing more than a coward. But, he will continue to hurt other people until someone hits him hard enough in the nose and the bully sees that first drop of blood stain the front of his shirt.”
That was all he said. The boy dried his eyes, helped load the feed, and thought about his grandfather’s advice.
1982 – September – Fall Football Practice
As Herschel Walker was beginning what would be his last year at Georgia, which would earn him the Heisman trophy in December, kids across the South were beginning football practice. As expected, the bully was on the boy’s team and ready to beat on him after practice on the first day. What the bully did not expect was what happened that hot afternoon.
After practice, the bully pushed him down again. As the boy rose to feet, he took helmet off. The bully kept his on. Suddenly, the boy lunged forward, balled that small fist into a cannon, and hit the bully through his facemask square in the nose.
As the bully fell to the ground bleeding from his nose, he looked up me with a glance I will never forget.
The old crop duster, turned bomber squadron leader, was right.
He would never bully me again.
Now, today you cannot handle such matters in this way. Juveniles and adults can be charged with battery or aggravated assault, depending on the circumstances.
Additionally, there are “anti-bully” campaigns in most schools that address bullying in a different manner. I respect these efforts to stop bullying, do not advocate violence, and do not suggest hitting anyone.
But, bullies do not just exist on the practice field. They can be found in the business world, political arena, and within the legal realm.
While Papa James’ advice about placing an accurate strike to the nose isn’t acceptable today, the truth behind the advice is right on target.
Bullies can only be dealt with by standing up to their intimidation. This can be the refusal to bend to business demands by competitors, doing the right thing when the “political winds” are blowing against you, or ensuring that in and out of the courtroom, folks know that you will seek justice by using all available ethical and legal means.
Remember, bullies can be a nine-year-old boy or a sixty-five-year-old C.E.O.
But, they all share the same characteristics; they are cowards who are dominated by fear and insecurity.