Pontiac — Michigan State University basketball head coach Tom Izzo can get pretty explosive with his players at times on the court.
But Izzo, a bully?
“I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I probably did some bullying in school, talking about people, and calling them names,” Izzo told The Detroit News in the hallway after being asked if he had ever been a victim of bullying following his presentation at an anti-bullying event at Oakland Schools Thursday morning. “I would take full responsibility if I did, now realizing what an impact it has on kids.”
Izzo, a father of two, also added: “one of my own kids was bullied a little bit.”
Bullying and how to stop it was part of Izzo’s presentation as one of two keynote speakers at the second Community Conversation on Bullying. Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein was also scheduled to speak.
The forum was led by educational, medical, legal, and mental health experts to provide tools enabling everyone to be proactive in the fight against bullying.
Kevin Epling knows all about it.
Epling, emcee of the event and the national co-director of Bully Police USA, led an effort to get Matt’s Law passed in Michigan.
Matt’s Law, or the “Matt Epling Safe School Law,” was signed on Dec. 6, 2011, in honor of Kevin Epling’s son, a Michigan teen who ended his life in 2002 after enduring severe bullying. The legislation gave schools six months to develop clear anti-bullying policies so they would be in place by the start of the 2012-13 school year. The bill is now Public Act 241 of 2011.
“I’m very much interested in this, and in finding great mentors,” Epling said. “When you see kids wearing Batman T-shirts, it’s usually because they want to identify with these superheroes. They identify with this alter-ego.”
Izzo pushed the role adults have in stopping and preventing bullying.
“As parents, teachers and coaches, we’re the difference-makers,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was going to talk about when I got up here, but I want to make sure I talk to my own kids about it, as well as talk to my players.”
“Sometimes, it can leave scars that last for a while or a lifetime,” he said.
According to Defeat the Label, a host of Thursday’s event, 58 percent of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online; 90 percent of teens who report being cyberbullied have also been bullied offline; 25 percent of all students report being bullied at school and 58 percent of kids have not told their parent or an adult about something that happened to them online.
Rudy Washington IV experienced bullying when he tried to step up and help a friend two years ago.
“I was very devastated and didn’t like any of it,” said Rudy, 12, who attended Thursday’s event with his parents, who have since relocated from Brownstown Township to Grovetown, Georgia. “The bully turned on me when I saw what was happening, and I told the bully he needs to stop.”
To that end, his mom, Starr Washington said her son created the “Rudy’s Sock Drive and No Bully Zone,” a nonprofit organization that helps the homeless and prevents bullying.
Rudy approached Izzo after his presentation, introduced himself and explained his mission. Izzo smiled broadly and posed for photos with him taken by the lad’s parents.
Defeat the Label is a Michigan-based nonprofit that, its website says, empowers students in classrooms around the globe.
Jamie Kaniarz is its executive director.
Asked why coach Izzo was selected as a keynote speaker for the event, she said, “Coach Izzo really pushes his players to be upstanders on and off the court.”
Pamela Harlin, director of the Meemic Foundation, the presenting sponsor of the event, said the foundation was involved because “it is the right thing to do.”