Museums deal in history, which makes them keepers of the past rather than agents of change. Dinosaur bones. Ancient Egyptian pottery. Renaissance statues. Even pop art, especially in America’s eye, can be so Andy Warhol four decades ago.
The Sports Museum, our crown jewel of athletics located inside Boston Garden, for the most part is no different. It houses the artifacts of our playing fields, keeps alive our greatest athletes, plays guardian at the gate to protect many of our strongest passions and memories.
“But we think we have to be more than that,’’ said Rusty Sullivan, the museum’s executive director. “Sure, we are pictures on a wall and beautiful display cases. All of that is great — it’s what we do.
“But I think a main reason we’ve outlasted some other sports museums is that we’ve tried to keep an eye on the future, remain relevant, always tried to be part of today’s community.’’
To that point, the Sports Museum now wants to create history of its own by making history of bullying. Not that bullying is exclusive to sports, of course. Likely around in Jurassic times, if not earlier, bullying’s bones continue to rattle in all parts of society. There are bullies on first base, on the school bus, in the office, in boardrooms, on battlefields and beyond.
All of which makes the scope of the Sports Museum’s initiative, “Boston vs. Bullies,’’ sort of a Super Bowl of social change, one that thus far has taken some 18 months and a $200,000 investment to get up and running.
“At its worst, bullying ruins lives,’’ said Sullivan. “So we see this as a way to make a difference in kids’ lives — maybe change some of those lives, even save some. Everyone here is proud of what we’ve put together.’’
With lead partners New Balance and the Highland Street Foundation, the museum has produced a half-hour DVD on bullying, centered around the words and wisdom of local athletes Patrick Chung (Patriots), Adam McQuaid (Bruins), Brandon Bass (Celtics), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Red Sox) and a handful of others, including Boston Cannons attacker Kevin Buchanan (@Kbuch27).
The athletes’ words are poignant, sincere, and should resonate with anyone — hands up, everybody — who has either bullied, been bullied, or been a witness/bystander to bullying. A 20-page facilitator’s guide accompanies the DVD, giving teachers or group leaders the tools to drive home the key points with kids.
By and large, it’s pegged to students ages 10-14, the upper-grammar school and middle-school group, Grades 4 through 8. According to Sullivan, the program is being piloted this week at the Ohrenberger School in West Roxbury and plans are in place, with the help and blessing of Mayor Thomas Menino, to roll it very soon through other city schools and youth centers.
“We’re starting it in the city because we’re located in the city,’’ noted Sullivan. “But this isn’t just an inner-city problem, or just a suburban problem, it’s not just boys or just girls. Bullying is everywhere, and it cuts across all demographics, all genders, all races and classes.
“As huge as that sounds, as huge as it is, we wanted to take it on, especially now with the Internet and all the technology bullies have in their reach. The stakes are higher than ever.’’
Buchanan, 26, a key attacker for the Cannons, is some 15 years removed from the days he was bullied in his hometown of Cockeysville, Md. Although diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder at the time, that wasn’t what made him the target of bullies.
“It was bad enough, but that would have been really awful,’’ said Buchanan, noting that he skillfully masked what he called OCD’s “obsessive little rituals’’ of constantly flipping light switches and washing his hands. “The last thing you’d want is someone ripping on you for that, right?’’
Instead, other kids picked on Buchanan because of his weight. Like many middle schoolers, he put on excess pounds, leading some classmates to call him “Pudge.’’ When one said it, others followed. Some of the kids, recalled Buchanan, went so far sometimes to grab his extra flesh and give it a twist.
The future star lacrosse player at Ohio State found himself dealing with bouts of depression often related to OCD, and also fending off both verbal and physical abuse directed at his growing, changing body.
“I had a whole lot going on there,’’ said Buchanan. “I’m 11, 12, 13 years old and I’ve got the OCD thing, thinking, ‘OK, why am I like this? Why am I compulsive, depressed?’ So there was all that stuff to digest, and then I’m getting picked on for being fat.
“Hey, you can laugh at it all these years later. I had to wear these goofy-looking eyeglasses under my helmet, too, because I had vision stuff — one eye was way stronger than the other. I look at those pictures now and laugh, but hey, I wasn’t laughing then.
“That’s why I think this Boston vs. Bullies thing is awesome. Kids need to know it’s not right.’’
To deal with the hurt at the time, recalled Buchanan, he simply went along with it, painfully, “laughed it off as good-spirited’’ teasing. Parent and teacher awareness, overall sensitivity to the subject of bullying, was minimal then. There were no DVDs, no facilitator’s guides. The two-step coping mechanism was: 1. grin; 2. bear it.
“That’s not what I’d tell a kid today,’’ said Buchanan, a sales account manager for Beckman Coulter, a medical-device company, when he’s not playing for the Cannons or the Philadelphia Wings. “What it comes down to, really, is that you have to stand up for yourself. Not physically, because that usually doesn’t end well. But you have to tell kids to back off, or ask an adult — maybe a teacher or parent — to help you make that case.’’
It’s 2012, and the Sports Museum is aiming to take a bite out of the age-old game of bullying.
It is a task both daunting and noble. Perhaps Boston yet again proves to be a world leader.
Ideally, the Sports Museum one day will be able to build one more display case, hang one more picture, that of a triumph over a foe made up of faces and enablers that lasted through millennia. Let us all agree that it’s a dynasty that needs to end.