SCARBOROUGH — Dizzy Grant was bullied.
Yeah, it was back in the seventh grade, long ago. But Grant, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, remembers being picked on in gym class by an older boy. And his relevation to a small group of Portland High and Deering High students Thursday in the Scarborough High gymnasium was quite surprising.
“I mean, this guy’s such a famous person, how could he have a low point in his life?’’ said Bobby Brittingham, a sophomore athlete at Portland. “It kind of helps you see how real the world is.’’
Each year the Southwestern Maine Activities Association holds a sportsmanship summit at a member school. This year’s summit, held at Scarborough, offered a little more.
Grant, who grew up in Princeton, N.J., and has been a Globetrotter for eight years, spoke briefly to the students, then stayed late to relay an anti-bullying message that the Globetrotters preach wherever they go.
“Unfortunately bullying has become an epidemic in our society,’’ he said. “And it’s not just children. It’s adult, too.’’
James Nutter, a former athlete at Kennebunk High and baseball player at the University of Southern Maine, provided another life lesson.
Nutter is gay but hid his sexual preference until he could no longer bear it. He quit sports, left school.
Now he tells his story so others don’t have to suffer as he did.
He spoke to the students about inclusion, about being mindful of what they say in the locker room or on the field.
Words can be as harmful as actions, he stressed.
Nutter passed out index cards for students to write questions on. He didn’t receive any, which leads him to think the issue is not as large as it once was, not after an NBA player, Jason Collins, came out as gay, not after an NFL prospect, Michael Sam, came out as gay. “It’s almost a non-issue,’’ he said, “especially with the younger kids.’’
“But there are still echoes of homophobic language,’’ he continued. “Even if you don’t mean it, you’re still using the words. It’s still important to talk about this.’’
His speech certainly resonated with the students.
“To me, it was really inspiring,’’ said Erick Molina, a sophomore soccer player at Portland. “I listened to every word he said. If you’re gay, it shouldn’t be a factor. You should treat every teammate the way everyone treats each other.’’
“He had a unique perspective because he played mainsteam sports,’’ said Curran Clere, a junior hockey and tennis player at Portland. “We all play sports like that, and all know that locker-room atmosphere and how hard it is. It meant a lot coming from him.’’
Nutter, now 25, said it’s important to talk to high school kids about his experience because “it’s part of life. They are going to have a co-worker, a family member, a friend come out some day. It’s important to conduct yourself respectfully around those people.’’
Grant’s message was similar. The Globetrotters created a program called “The ABCs of Bullying Prevention,’’ in conjunction with the National Campaign to Stop Violence.
The program stresses action, bravery and compassion – hence, the ABCs.
Normally he addresses middle school students. But it was good to talk to high schoolers, he said, because “it’s nice to get (their) perspective, too,’’
This summit is to be lauded, he said, because it teaches students to be leaders “and that’s something we desperately need.’’
He told the students to take the proper actions to prevent bullying, to step in, to be brave, to stop it. He stressed bullying can happen to anyone and that everyone has to watch out for it. If you can’t stop it, he said, find someone who can help.
“The thing about bullying,’’ he said, “is that they’re going to keep doing it and keep doing it and keep doing it until you stop it.’’
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: