David Johnson, the Arizona Cardinals’ star running back, says he will make a statement against bullying when he takes the field this Sunday, by wearing special cleats highlighting the Stomp Out Bullying group.
Week 13 in the NFL features the league’s annual Cause & Effect games in which players wear items honoring the various charitable causes they support.
“I still remember the feeling I’d get in the pit of my stomach when I realized I was about to be bullied,” Johnson said of his childhood, “and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I’d describe it as fear mixed with hopelessness.”
Stomp Out Bullying points out that 90% of LGBT students in elementary through high school have reported being a victim of bullying. “Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying is alarming.
In fact, over a third of LGBT students are physically assaulted at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Johnson said his unique footwear was still being created, but that the shoes would be ready for Sunday’s game. Another NFL player, running back Orleans Darkwa, was also set to wear Stomp Out Bullying cleats this weekend, but a severe injury ended his season early.
Darkwa says he’s still vigorously committed to the anti-bullying cause. “I know some kids become suicidal, and don’t have the support they need, and that’s upsetting to me.”
Homophobia within the NFL was cited by Michael Sam, the first openly gay athlete to enter the league in 2014, as a factor in his abbreviated career. Wade Davis, director of the You Can Play Project, which works with the NFL “striving to ensure that everyone regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity continues to feel like a valued and respected member of the NFL family,” has been an outspoken advocate against anti-LGBT bullying on and off the playing field.
“We all must have a seat at the table to discuss a subject that has been so taboo for many years,” Davis observed, “and we must continue to do the work to make sure all individuals feel embraced and accepted within all sports.”
Davis and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who have partnered to create the league’s Respect At Work program of diversity education, both believe there will be more out players in major-league football “in the not too distant future.”