Michael Scott, the football coach at Annandale High School in Virginia, is getting blasted in the media for yelling at the school’s award-winning marching band during halftime at a game and forcing them off the field so his players could warm up.
Mean move. Stupid move. But it’s not a bullying move, which is what it’s being called.
Bullying isn’t about a single aggressive action. It involves repeated behavior by someone intended to hurt another person in any of a variety of ways. The harm of bullying is sustained over time, by persistent aggression that a victim can’t escape. If every nasty act is labeled “bullying” then the real nature of the problem gets diluted.
A recent report, called “Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges and Universities” and released by the American Educational Research Association, that reviewed years of research on the subject of bullying concluded that it is hard to accurately monitor levels of bullying in schools because there is no firm consensus on what constitutes bullying behavior — but there are some agreed-upon characteristics. Here’s the definition that the report starts off with:
Bullying is a highly varied form of aggression where there is systematic use and abuse of power. Bullying can include physical aggression such as hitting and shoving, and verbal aggression, such as name-calling (Espelage, 2012; Vaillancourtet al., 2008). It can also include social or relational forms of bullying in which a victim is excluded by peers or subjected to humiliation. Bullying can occur face-to-face or through digital media such as text messages, social media, and websites. There are mild, moderate, and severe levels of bullying.
The Annandale coach may indeed be a bully, but we don’t know that from his one aggressive outburst over the marching band’s time on the field.