Eagles over wolves in a rout
Among the burdens of a married American male are to provide shelter, put food in the cupboards and occasionally sit through showings of "The View."
Which is what my wife and I were doing last week when we saw something that made it hard to speak, much less drink our coffee.
A 13-year-old boy named Nadin Khoury told about how he'd been attacked by seven bigger schoolmates, kicked, beaten, dragged through the snow, stuffed into a tree, and hung on a 7-foot spiked fence, all while adults watched.
The boy was only 5-foot-2, but he'd made up his mind to stand tall no matter how much of his pride bled out. As the brutal video played on a screen behind him, his collar stayed buttoned, his spine straight, but his bottom lip quivered.
"Next time maybe it could be somebody smaller than me," he said, loud and clear, like the Marine he wants to be someday. "Maybe next time, somebody could really get hurt."
That's when host Elisabeth Hasselbeck said, "There are some guys here who want to tell you just how brave you are."
Khoury seemed at once shocked, overwhelmed and redeemed. Where once his chin stuck out as best it could, it now fell open in wonder.”
Khoury seemed at once shocked, overwhelmed and redeemed. Where once his chin stuck out as best it could, it now fell open in wonder. He looked like a kid who'd forgotten it was Christmas morning. He wept without wiping his tears. Jackson sat as close to him as possible, as if to make the two one. He praised the boy for his bravery and added, "Anytime ever you need us, I got two linemen right here."
Nadin's mom cried, Whoopi Goldberg cried, my wife cried and I cried.
Why would a superstar athlete up and fly to NYC from LA with one day's notice to support a kid he's never met?
Rewind four months:
Eighth-grader Nadin has just moved to the Philly suburb of Upper Darby with his sister. Their mom Rebecca had lost her Minnesota hotel-maid job. That makes him the strange new kid at Upper Darby High School. That makes him prey. Walking down a steep hill to catch the bus, kids start taunting him about his mother, an African refugee who fled bloody Liberia in 2000.
"They were calling her names," Khoury told me. "Talkin' about her 'booty.' I didn't want to hear that so I told them to stop. They pushed me down and dragged me down the hill. I got up and fought one of them. ... The next day the other kids got on him about 'How you let a little kid beat you like that?' And I could see that it really made him mad. It bottled up in him until he was ready to explode."
The bullying gets worse. Alley ambushes. Pushes and slugs and draggings. And then comes the attack on Jan. 11 by what Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood calls "a wolf pack." "I was afraid for my life," the boy recalls.
When one of the pack posts the video on YouTube, Nadin's mom has her proof and presses charges. The Upper Darby police ask if the family will bring the case public.
Rebecca thinks about the rebels in Liberia. Thinks about how they found her family hiding and dragged her father into the streets and murdered him there. Thinks about standing up to bullies, even the ones with AK-47s.
"I say to my son, 'Are you ready for this? This is not going to be little. This is going to be big.' And he says, 'Yes, Mommy.' And I say, 'Are you ashamed of anything?' And he says, 'No, Mommy.' So we do it."
The Philadelphia Inquirer writes a piece. A staffer at "The View" reads it. She finds out Jackson is Nadin's favorite player and reaches out to the Eagles. The Eagles call Jackson.
Jackson thinks of his childhood in South Central LA. Thinks of the bullying that went on in his childhood, the kind that ends in mothers flung across coffins. Thinks of Desmond, his 13-year-old brother.
"He's a small guy too," Jackson says. "Nadin reminded me of him. When I thought of kids doing that stuff to my little brother, man, that really got to me. Made me want to get my hands on those kids."
Next thing you know, Nadin is on a couch with his favorite NFL player at -- and on -- his side. Jackson takes the jersey he's wearing off his back, signs it and gives it to the kid. Then he gives him his cell phone number to back it up.
It only gets better from there.
Jackson starts an anti-bullying nonprofit -- DeSean Jackson Against Bullying. The family receives Eagles tickets, 76ers tickets, jerseys, T-shirts.
The director of admissions at Valley Forge Military Academy, LaToro Yates, sees "The View." He thinks of the bullies in his childhood. Thinks of the boys who terrorized him for the way he looked, the way he talked, the way he dressed.
Next thing you know, Nadin is being invited to the VFMA campus, where men like General Norman Schwarzkopf and J.D. Salinger and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald once walked.
"I admire this young man's courage," Yates says. "It takes courage just to come to school the next day. But to step up and go public with it to help other kids? Wow."
The academy is "working diligently to make the young man a cadet at Valley Forge Military Academy starting this fall," says Yates. Free.
The Upper Darby police, meanwhile, do a little dragging of their own. They walk into Nadin's school and drag the alleged attackers off in handcuffs. Eventually, charges were dropped against one but the others will pay for their bullying of Nadin. Their cases and final charges are still pending.
The fear isn't entirely gone in Nadin's house -- his mom still sleeps in the living room at night in case "somebody's coming to get my son," she says -- but for Nadin, stepping up for others has been the best thing he's ever done for himself. He's already turned down $1,800 for the jersey. "I'm going to give it to my son and he'll give it to his son."
I keep thinking about why I cried that day. I think it's that when the biggest and fiercest and most famous of us takes time to stand up for the smallest of us, it makes me proud to be a sportswriter, proud to cover these athletes, these men.
But I'm prouder still when a young, poor boy like this stands up with no idea any help is coming.
(Oh, and a note to the wolf pack: If you think Eagles players shouldn't be messed with, wait until you meet the Marines.)
Love the column, hate the column, got a better idea? Go here.
Want more Life of Reilly? Then check out the archive.
Be sure to check out Rick's latest project, "Go Fish."
ESPN TOP HEADLINES
- LeBron: Cavs 'very fragile' amid 4-game skid
- Winston says contact with ref unintentional
- FSU's Fisher: Doesn't matter how team wins
- Pacquiao decisions Algieri, easily retains title
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
LIFE OF REILLY
RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His latest book is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." A finalist for the 2011 Thurber Prize for Humor, it's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or Chess Boxing. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.