Kids are bullied every day.
Sandwiches are stolen, books are knocked down, cruel words are spoken. 17 percent of American kids reported being regularly bullied in one Clemson University survey. And the effects can last long after they leave the playground — according to clinical psychologist William Copeland's interview with LiveScience, there are "a whole host of outcomes" that can stretch well into adulthood.
"More and more, I'm coming to the mindset that what happens to kids when they're with other kids, their peers, is as important, or maybe more important, than what happens at home," he told the science news website.
Which is why when stories of former victims' successes come across our news feeds, it's so important to celebrate them and share them. Kids facing down bullies inside and outside the classroom need to know that it does get better.
Stories of triumph — like that of Kansas City Chiefs running back and all around athletic all-star Jamaal Charles — can have a huge impact.
Charles, a force to be reckoned with at 5'11" and 199 pounds, is one of the best running backs currently playing in the NFL. To date, he's had over 1,200 carries for 6,856 yards. In short, he's the definition of a yard line-conquering, body-slamming bad*ss.
It's easy to see why some people might be surprised about the big, emotional reveal the Texas native made this past Saturday during the opening ceremony of the Special Olympics.
But that surprise — and the stereotypes it upends — make his speech carry that much more weight.
Port Arthur, Texas, was a rough place for him to grow up. He told ESPN in a 2014 interview that he didn't know if he'd be able to leave, a sentiment he echoed in his speech on Saturday.
Charles, himself an alum of the Games, stood tall on the Special Olympics stage that night and explained that he'd been asked by the organizers to talk about courage, but that to talk about courage, he had to talk about fear.
"Before I had a chance to be an all-American running back at Port Arthur High School in Texas, before I had a chance to win a national championship at the University of Texas and attaining academic honors, before I had the chance to become a professional athlete all-pro running back in the NFL for the Kansas City Chiefs, before all those wonderful moments, I was afraid. I was lost," he said.
All eyes were on him as he continued his speech. One look at Charles barrelling toward you across the 20-yard line was enough to make even the most experienced linebackers take a stutter-step back — what could he have possibly been afraid of?
His next sentence was one that resonated with many.
Then, powerfully, it all came full circle.
The watershed moment, the moment when Charles realized that he might be able to leave Port Arthur and his bullies behind, happened when he competed in the Games as a 10-year-old track and field runner.
"When I competed in the Special Olympics, I found out just how fast I was. I stood high on the podium, getting the gold medal in track and field. When I found out how fast I was, I was blessed with a new company, the company turned to courage, the courage to be the best I can be every day," he said.
The Special Olympics told Charles that there was hope. That he had a future. That there was life outside of his town. And 18 years later, he returned the favor by assuring those listening to him speak that they could exceed their peers and their bullies' expectations, achieve what they set their minds to — and do so with grace.
No moment was more poignant in his speech than the moment that he recited the Games' defiant athletes oath from memory before his fellow Special Olympians.
Although, according to StopBullying.gov, there is not a single, specific characteristic that leads to bullying, children who are seen seen as "different" from their peers are often more at risk. Children like the student athletes who responded to Charles' speech with cheers and applause.
For people who are experiencing or have experienced bullying, one of the most important things we can do is remind them that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. That there are stories to be shared and yard lines to be gained and touchdowns to be won.
Let us be brave in our attempt.