- LZ Granderson, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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This week Steve Nash re-tweeted something that not only caught my eye, but also my heart: "I'm pro-creative and individualism. 90% of gay teens being harassed is embarrassing to human race." He included a link to a New York Times story about the recent suicides of gay teens and the role bullying played in their deaths.
Now, anyone who has been following Nash's career knows such a gesture is hardly outside the norm. This is a guy who was green before it was cool and spoke out against Arizona's controversial immigration law. Add him leading the NBA in assists in four of the past six seasons and what you have is a guy who seems to spend most of his life helping others.
"It's heartbreaking anytime you think of a child suffering to the point of suicide it's just so heartbreaking," said Nash, the father of twin school-age daughters. "I don't know if it's depression coupled with bullying that has led to the suicides or what, but what I do know is it can be prevented. We're losing wonderful children in our communities and it's up to the adults to do something."
I agree. Accepting torment as a rite of passage -- "everybody gets bullied" -- reeks of barbarism, and we as a society should want to be better than that.
And while re-tweeting is as easy as clicking a button, such a gesture shouldn't be taken lightly. We all know people, particularly athletes, who may be against bullying but not comfortable using the word "gay" in their tweets or public communications. Hell, someone reading this column right now might be one of those people.
That's why Nash's tweet grabbed me: He's not afraid to embrace the humanity of victims and to say that bullying is wrong. And if he got just one of his 255,445 Twitter followers to agree with him, there's no telling the good that might come of it.
"Everyone gets teased for something in school, but there's a difference between that and being bullied every day," said Nash, who in his offseasons is spending more time learning the ins and outs of film work, illustrated by his "30 for 30" film "Into the Wind" and comic video clips promoting a video game. "If we can move beyond just monitoring but get to education and talking about it, hopefully we can begin to eliminate some of the pain we're inflicting on each other. That's difficult, but it can be achieved.
"Bullying is about the insecurity of the person who feels the need to bully. [My response is] not about sexual preference or race or anything like that. It's just about human decency."
Bullying may seem like a problem for those who are gay or marginalized, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an 8 percent increase in teen suicides in its most recent study. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among people 15-24. That should make it everyone's problem.
With the suicides of six teenage boys linked to homophobic bullying in September alone in the U.S., it's little wonder that national focus has been on this particular topic for the past week. Everyone from Larry King to Tim McGraw to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has touched on the subject, and comedian Kathy Griffin is donating all the proceeds from one of her shows to help The Trevor Project, a suicide-prevention organization for gay youth.
But as Nash said, the breadth of bullying is so much greater. Research suggests that obese children -- regardless of gender, economic status, etc. -- may be more apt to be bullied in school than anyone else. This is why The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a guide for prevention and Suicide.org has information about hotlines.
Recently, syndicated columnist Dan Savage started the "It Gets Better" channel on YouTube as a way for concerned individuals to reach out to young gay people who are having a hard time with bullying. He said he was encouraged to see athletes like Nash -- as well as Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford and Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes, both of whom spoke out last year about bullying -- voicing their concerns, because of their influence.
"When you think about high school and who were some of the bullies, certainly athletes rank near the top of the list, for most people," Savage said. "If we can convince these kids to be positive leaders instead of instigators, we can change the culture of bullying."
One of the first people to shoot a video for the "It Gets Better" project was Hudson Taylor, a three-time wrestling All-American at Maryland and now the assistant wrestling coach at Columbia University. Taylor said because athletes at every level tend to garner a lot of attention, he felt it was important for him to use that platform to address homophobia and bullying.
"As a student-athlete, I was always looking up to my teammates, measuring myself against them. But after my junior year I was voted captain and it was at that point I realized I was no longer looking up to other people but that they were looking up to me," said Taylor, who grabbed national attention while in college by wearing a sticker bearing the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group, on his wrestling headgear. "As a straight athlete, I'm not afraid to speak out, because in a lot of ways I'm insulated. I might get teased a little but I'm not risking as much as someone who is gay or is being bullied. That's why it's so important that athletes speak out, because we have a lot of power."
"Just because everybody does it doesn't mean it's right, and it takes more strength to defend the weak against the masses than be part of the masses that pick on the weak."
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
"It's heartbreaking anytime you think of a child suffering to the point of suicide it's just so heartbreaking," said Steve Nash. And he's not the only athlete reaching out to youth in distress.