By Mark Eckel, Player Engagement Insider
Anyone can be bullied, even one of the NFL’s best young running backs.
Let the Arizona Cardinals David Johnson tell you himself.
“As a kid I had to deal with bullying unfortunately in elementary and middle school,’’ Johnson, the Cards third-year back out of Northern Iowa, said. “As I got older I didn’t, but one of my regrets was not dealing with it sooner.’’
Johnson deals with it now. He spends a lot of his time and much effort in helping kids in the Phoenix area handle being bullied.
He tells his story to the students and while it’s hard for them to imagine at first how a guy who had over 2,000 total yards in 2016 (1,239 rushing and 879 receiving) and scored 22 touchdowns was bullied, the message eventually gets through.
“Why it’s so big for me, to tell my story and just to speak on anti-bullying is you don’t hear about it as much as other things, or talked about as much, but it’s a problem that’s out there,’’ Johnson said.
“My main message is talking to the kids who have been bullied, and telling them my story. How I was scared to go places because of the bullies. And how it interfered with me being able to hang out with my friends and just play pick-up sports in the park and stuff.
“Most of them don’t believe me at first. But as I go on they do. And I just try to keep their hopes up, keep their composure up. And the big thing is teaching them how to deal with it, or how to get help. Let them know they have friends, they have people they can talk to about it, or lean on for support.’’
Along with the Cardinals and Cox Communication, Johnson and his wife Meghan run an anti-bullying campaign in and around the Phoenix area. During this past training camp, 80 students from five different schools visited the team facilities and heard Johnson’s talk.
It didn’t end there.
The students went back to their respective schools and spread Johnson’s message.
“They go back to their schools and become an ambassador for anti-bullying,’’ Johnson said.
The students were then to write essays on their experiences and what they learned. The top 10 are selected and are sent to David and Meghan, who read them and pick the best of the best.
“We’re in the process of getting it completed,’’ Johnson, who is out this season with a wrist injury, said in early November. “We’re going to pick the best one and then go to that school and talk to them about it and have a rally to let them know how great they were as an ambassador for anti-bullying.’’
It’s one thing for a teacher, or an administrator, or even a police officer to tell kids about bullying. When it comes from the star of the local NFL team, who was once a victim, it means a lot more.
“That’s the biggest influence I have is my platform,’’ Johnson said. “That’s the biggest, I guess, positive thing I have to get to the students and to get them to listen, because of my platform and my success in the league.
“It can definitely happen to anyone. Before I was a NFL player, I was just a normal kid and had to deal with this. I wasn’t the biggest kid. I didn’t really spring up till later and really didn’t get big until college when I got to the weight room.
“But ever since high school, I wanted to work with kids in some way. Even in high school, I did some things where I went and talked to younger kids, coached them. I just wanted to help.’’
And now as one of the league’s bright, young stars he’s helping even more.