The Rutgers University basketball fiasco is déjà vu all over again. It’s yet another classic tale of bullies, victims and institutionalized bystander behavior by adults who should know better. So, while the press focuses on the bullies and the victims, it’s the role of the bystander at both institutions that should be examined more closely.
As with Penn State, where football coach Joe Paterno was arguably an unchecked bully, whose behavior was tolerated for decades in the name of profit, Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was allegedly an abusive bully for years and Athletic Director Tim Pernetti seemingly played the role of bystander.
At both schools, the bystanders in their respective administrative positions failed to protect kids. They apparently stood by, said nothing, and made the active decision to deem abusive behavior against kids an acceptable risk.
Unfortunately, we are largely a nation of bystanders. Businesses, government agencies and academic institutions count on us to say nothing and look the other way. Our bystander culture will not change until we as parents, taxpayers and concerned citizens make a commitment to teach kids, teens, undergrads and adults how to stand up and speak out.
But more so, we have to teach ourselves to be “upstanders.” We have to show zero tolerance for institutionalized bullying not only of our children, but against those adults, aka whistleblowers, who call attention to abuse in the first place.
One person could have reported these abuses and bullying — months if not years sooner. Just one person could have made a difference by standing up. But it will take more than one upstander. Until we increase our upstander numbers, our children will continue to pay the price.