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Is Mocking Redheads Bullying? If Not, What Is?

Its Super Bowl time, and since my team didn't make it, I haven't been paying very close attention.  But I got to talking with Aaron Gouveia on Twitter after I noticed one of his tweets about how a redhead would never QB a team to said Super Bowl.  Essentially, Aaron was mocking redheads.  My team doesn't have a redheaded QB, so we are safe (for now!), but I mentioned to him that this might fall under the term of bullying.  Aaron, in case you don't know, is rightfully well known in the Daddy-bloggersphere for his excellent Daddy Files blog.  Seriously, go read it now, and follow @DaddyFiles on Twitter.  And before I really get going on this rant, let me say: I get it.  Even as great as Gouveia is, he probably can't hold candle to the prestige, money and social status of a Pro-Bowl NFL player like Andy Dalton.  Andy Dalton could never do another thing in the NFL and probably still have more name recognition, money and power than Gouveia ever will.  This isn't exactly punching down.  Gouveia probably can't exclude Dalton from anything that isn't Gouveia's own house.  Dalton, should he ever want to get really, oddly vindictive for some reason, could probably exclude Gouveia from everything in the world.  The power differential one usually assumes exists in instances of bullying doesn't really make an appearance.
Can you bully an NFL QB?

Gouveia told me he thinks we assign the "bully" label to situations where it doesn't apply.  Or at the very least I was applying to a situation where it didn't apply.

Maybe I/we did/do.

Because the truth is, I've been conflicted about the name calling that often goes with rooting for sports teams for a while now.  I'm completely guilty of this behavior myself, having called Eli Manning a host of disparaging names.  I'm all for noting that certain QBs fail in the fourth quarter or throw ill-timed picks or denigrating Donovan McNabb for throwing "worm burners."  Those are criticisms of their skills and abilities to play the position.

And the Gouveia-Dalton situation certainly doesn't involve the type of physical abuse frequently mentioned on websites about bullying.  But does it fit into under the term "attacking someone verbally"?  Is it OK for 30-year olds and 40-year olds to mock the looks of 20-year-old kids fresh out of college?

Gouveia clearly thinks it is. Maybe it is.  Maybe the lack of a power differential makes all the difference.  I'm just not sure.  It might sound like I'm throwing stones at Gouveia; but I'm really not. As I've said, I've done this myself, insulting hated rival Eli Manning's looks and manhood in the heat of games and discussions.  This is much more of an introspective piece about me trying to figure out where I stand than a criticism of where Gouveia stands on the issue.

Because even if its not bullying, I wonder: what are we teaching our kids when we make fun of someone almost half our age for the color of their hair? Would we be OK with a high school senior making fun the redheaded kid in the freshman class?  What if the senior was editor of the paper and the freshman was the football team's QB and had just lost a playoff game?

Are we comfortable saying a redhead will never win the SB, even in jest?  Aren't we stating that redheads are somehow inferior in some basic way.  Where is the line?  Are we comfortable saying a redhead could never win the presidency?  What about a woman?  What about a Hispanic?

When I think about it, I'm not really sure I'm comfortable with what my kids would take away from that behavior.  I'm also not sure whether its a form of bullying or not.  So I don't mock the appearance of sports players any longer and I shudder when others do.

But I think my confusion on this issue is just symptomatic of the issue of bullying itself.  Much of what I read about bullying from parent bloggers, general bloggers and the media portray it as some sort of black and white issue where there are bullies and the bullied and a vast chasm in between. In reality, I think the evidence shows bullies are often bullied themselves.

I know that when I was a kid, I was both the bully and the bullied.

So a lot of kids do some bullying at some point, and are also bullied at some point.  It is a trickle down situation where the jocks bully the general population, which bullies the nerd population.  On and on it goes until you get down to that one kid who is really, really screwed because he has no friends to bully and is the lowest person on the totem pole.

Andy Dalton may or may not be a good QB, but I'm not sure his hair color can or should come into the equation.

Bullying resources:
Wikipedia on bullying
Bullying stats on bullying


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  1. While I don't think Gouveia was bullying, I also think he needs to reconsider his behavior. One: he's teaching his kids (as you point out) that making fun of someone for something that have little control over (and shouldn't be ashamed of) is A-Okay. So if his kid is on a sports team, is his kid going to look at the redhead and say "You can't play X-position because you're going to suck." And what happens when another kid from a similar parent says a similar thing to his kid? It may not have yet risen to bullying levels, but it's still stereotyping and ostracizing for ridiculous reasons.

    It's also pretty pathetic behavior. Bullying stems from wanting to feel better about yourself by lessening others. How pitiful is it that you feel threatened by this QB that you need to insult his hair color? Rip apart his skills on the field all you want, but when you insult something that has nothing to do with his playing, then you're just illustrating how low you can sink.

  2. I agree. As I wrote the post, I kind of came to the conclusion that it isn't technically bullying, its just nasty behavior, and nasty often leads to bullying.

  3. I'm torn on this, I don't think it is meant as bullying, but I'm sure the person on the receiving end could get quite upset by it. Maybe as grown ups we can shake off things like this but children are not so resilient. I wonder how Gouveia would feel if his child were to be ridiculed for a physical feature. Thanks for linking up with #MultipleMadness

    1. Sorry it took so long to respond, Katie! As Alex said above, and I hinted at in my post, its probably not bullying, but its certainly not nice and we should all strive for more nice in our lives.


  4. It could be perceived as bullying, but it depends on the context. Sometimes I think we are all guilty of saying things based on someone's appearance without really thinking about it - often as a joke and not meant to offend. However, some people take it too far. As my daughter is becoming more aware of people's difference I'm trying to teach her that it's good that we don't all look the same, and she should never judge someone based on how they look, or be nasty to them because of it.

  5. Yep!

    We try to teach our kids that everyone is different, and that everyone has talents and skills, strengths and weaknesses. We also stress that while you might not like something, that doesn't make it bad or wrong - or our kids' favorite current phrase - "disgusting."

    Thanks for stopping by!


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