NFL Lineman Gets Tough on Bullying
By Tom Buehring
The 700 Club
CBN.com -In a league of giants, the Cleveland Browns’ Garrett Gilkey is among the largest. He is on his team, playing a position that demands size and strength. “As an offensive lineman we’re generally called to be very dominate, having tenacity, being very, very physical on the field. Sometimes you’re going to experience those moments where the guy across the line is drooling at the mouth. I put on my blinders and narrow my focus.”
That imposing demeanor didn’t come easy for the 6 foot 6, 320 pound rookie offensive guard. “It was hard for me to learn how to transition in sports, in football, to being physical. My mom always said, ‘Garrett, you have to be gentle. You’re going to be a great big man of God someday. You have to use your words. You can’t use your size to intimidate people.’”
Intimidation among NFL teammates has made national headlines, stirring debate over football hazing and addressing broader issues about bullying. “When you find yourself trying to gain power over another person, whether you’re in middle school or whether your co-workers --you’re essentially putting another person beneath yourself. That’s going to create inadequacy. That’s going to create doubt and fear. Those are issues that will arise. And it doesn’t matter how big, how strong, how tough you are, those are things that will surface, and those are things that absolutely need to be dealt with.”
Tom Buehring 700 Club Reporter: “You'd think it might be easy for a man the size of an NFL lineman to face the abuse of a bully. But For Garrett Gilkey, there's nothing easy about it. Because growing up he was bullied, taking the lonely front seat of shame and hurt that still lingers long after the harassment ended.”
Garrett explains, “Bullying is very detrimental. Even today, that’s something I struggle with, like understanding my self-worth. I’ve always felt not sufficient, or not good enough, like I needed to be more, that I wasn’t accepted, that hovering sadness, that depression. It definitely played a toll in my life and how that shaped me.”
Garrett excelled academically. But it brought challenges. As a high school freshman, a much smaller Garrett was picked on at school. A heart operation prohibited him from playing sports. So he was assigned as a helper in the school office, making it harder to integrate with his peers.
“My job was to sign in kids that had gotten sent to the office or were getting suspended. So I quickly became the face for these kids of the trouble they were getting into. I was in an assembly, in front of the entire school and it came time to recognize the fall activities. So I went up there for the scholastic club, came time to say my name in front of the entire school – my name was said and the entire school booed me. Went back up for the math team and the same thing happened. There was a slide show up on the wall and my picture would come up, and again, the entire school booed me. I remember going into the bathroom and just sobbing.”
“There was an instance when I was walking home and I was confronted by a group of kids. I had braces on my teeth and had all this hardware in the roof of my mouth. It kind of stood out. So one of the kids had awkwardly asked to see it and without going into too much detail, something soiled was thrown in my mouth. It was a time I felt isolated. I felt alone. I felt very small. It was very damaging.”
So damaging that Garrett switched schools. By his senior year, he grew into his NFL height. He played college football at Chadron State, arriving in Cleveland as a 7th round pick earlier this year. He was a long shot, one of only 11 players drafted from a Division Two school. But being bullied, he was accustomed to being the outsider. Being perceptive, he also looked past his own hurt.
“There are factors and outside reasons and issues to why that child is doing the bullying. Maybe being beaten by his dad at home. Maybe mom’s a drug addict. Maybe there’s gang violence. When you don’t have a foundation you’ll supplement it with things you have control doing. Where they’re able to fill that void to feel better about themselves.”
Tom: "Forgiveness. How important was it for you in overcoming this?
“(It was) absolutely essential. I think for any type of recovery you have to forgive the perpetrators, the people who did those things. I shifted my mentality. I shifted the way I looked at those kids. It wasn’t until I was truly able to love thosepeople that I was able to accept myself and truly overcome and be healed from the things that have happened in my life".
Where did Garrett find the strength to forgive? “I think there couldn’t be more of a Biblical portrayal of the face of Christ. Something that’s so hard for people is to see how Christ looks at us. His love is so overwhelming for us. The reality is God calls us to love others the way He loves us. And that includes forgiveness. That includes reckless love. God forgives me of all my inadequacies and yet He loves me unconditionally. Then I look at the encounters of my life, at the things other people have done in my life and its trivial, it’s nothing! If I can’t forgive somebody for something that they’ve done to me, how can I expect Christ to forgive me for the rejection I’ve had against Him.”
Garrett visits schools in the greater Cleveland area. His profile as an NFL player provides a platform to address students who are bullied and who bully, raising awareness about a growing issue that silences its victims.
“It’s hard because people deal with real hurt, real pain, real issues and real struggles. And so how do we communicate those things of perseverance and staying strong underneath that pressure? It’s hard! Christ calls us to consider it joy under trails. The opposition you come across develops you into that perfect mold that Christ intends you to be, that’s when you experience the power. That’s when you experience the joy that surpasses all understanding.”
Garrett Gilkey, the NFL offensive guard, who leveraged the strength to transform a wound into acceptance.
“I’m not perfect by any means. But I’m also going to authentically pursue the real Christ. As I pursued the real Christ, I’ve learned how to love people unconditionally, forgive people recklessly, and accept people unconditionally.”
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