It was ideal New York weather to play basketball: a sunny, spring day. About a dozen of my friends and I had just finished school. When we got to the courts, we divided up and started playing, subbing in and out until we got tired.
After we finished, I went over to the benches to relax and change. I saw that on the other courts, there were eight younger kids around 13 years old playing and having fun with each other. They all had light brown skin and looked like they might have been South Asian or Middle Eastern.
Then three older teenage boys sat down near them.
I kept watching, my eye on the older boys because I got the feeling they wanted to make trouble. Then they started yelling at the kids: “Play me for $20!”
The younger kids ignored them but the teenagers would not stop yelling, and their language began to worsen. “Play me, you guys are trash.” “Get the f-ck out of here, you don’t belong here,” and “Come on, play us three versus eight! You f-cking suck.” The other kids smartly ignored them and continued playing with one another.
Then the older guys started shouting,“Allah, Allah, Allah!” The younger children froze. They seemed scared now and unsure of what to do next.
Basketball, a Unifier
These racist, prejudiced comments directed at young kids made me angry and sad. Hearing them on a basketball court particularly disappointed me, because I think of basketball as a unifier that can help create new bonds among people from different backgrounds.
I kept watching the situation, and said to my friends, “If those guys touch those kids, I’m going over there.”
The three bullies did not stop.
I yelled over at them: “Leave these kids alone! They’re just trying to have some fun! Chill out with those unnecessary comments about religion! It’s not right!”
A few of my friends joined in. “That’s bullying man, don’t do that sh-t!” “Cut it out and go, no one wants to play with you after what you said!” “Go home, we don’t need this bad energy on such a great day!”
Trying to Help
I wanted to resolve the situation by going over to them and talking calmly. But then one of the three teenagers yelled to one of my friends, “That was not me, bro! You got it all twisted, that was my other friend. I dare you to come over here and touch me, watch what will happen!” When he said that, I hesitated.
Suddenly, the three bullies threw what looked like acid on the court to prevent the children from playing. The liquid fizzed when it hit the court. The bullies ran off.
My friends and I wanted to chase after them but we knew it was better to go check on the younger kids. They thanked us for trying to help. We left so they could play on our court since theirs was ruined.
The idea of basketball as a sport that brings people together is sacred to me. While I was walking home and for days after, I thought about how I might have handled the situation differently. I think that the three teenagers might have been more willing to speak to me if I had gone over to them first, instead of my friends and I yelling at them. And even if they weren’t willing to talk it out, next time I won’t back off so quickly.
Or I could have gone over to them with a couple of my friends so there was strength in numbers, but not so many as to be intimidating. Another alternative could have been that when the three teenagers sat on the benches, I could have told all my friends to go home so that our court would have been open for the younger kids. Then, maybe the older kids would have been less interested in bullying. And finally, next time I’ll consider finding an adult to help us out. I could have called upon park leaders and staff, or the police.
Still, I feel proud for standing up for those kids, even if it didn’t change the bullies’ behavior. Rather than being just a bystander, I became an ally. Being an ally helps encourage other people to stand up against bullies. It also shows bullies that their behavior is not OK. It might even help them reflect on their behavior.
- Kevin writes “The idea of basketball as a sport that brings people together is sacred to me.” What are the activities in your life you feel bring people together? In your opinion, why do those activities build community?
- What do you think of how Kevin and his friends dealt with the bullies? What about the alternatives he writes about at the end? What would you have done in his place?
- Kevin gives one difference between being a bystander and being an ally. What are the other differences? Are there situations in which it’s better to not get involved as an ally?