Local Sports Stars Take On Bullying
The Boston vs. Bullies program has educated thousands of kids—and COM’s Jason Carter has filmed it from the start
What do the Boston Celtics’ Grant Williams, Boston Renegades’ Chanté Bonds and Boston Red Sox’ Trevor Story have in common? Each hopes to bring the city its next professional sports championship, of course—but this fall they’re teaming up to fight bullying.
The trio is joined by five other local professional athletes in Boston vs. Bullies, a nonprofit educational program created by The Sports Museum and provided free of charge to schools around New England. They receive learning materials, and a trained facilitator leads class discussions. All of it centers around the lessons and messages captured in a series of videos. And Jason Carter, a COM lecturer in the film and television department, has been behind the camera since the program’s inception a decade ago (.pdf)
“I do all kinds of video work,” says Carter, who runs Jcar Productions in addition to teaching. “But not all of it is something where I can say, ‘Wow, I did something that made this world a better place.’”
The first two editions of Boston vs. Bullies, released in 2012 and 2016, reached more than 165,000 elementary and middle school kids at 550 schools. Organizers hope that version 3.0—released in October—will reach 85,000 more by 2025.
The Power of the Uniform
The Sports Museum occupies parts of two floors at TD Garden, where the Bruins and Celtics play. The displays are filled with relics—a piece of the Celtics’ famed parquet floor from the old Boston Garden, a 2004 Red Sox World Champions banner, vintage uniforms from local teams. Rusty Sullivan, the museum’s executive director, recalls the decision to develop the Boston vs. Bullies program a decade ago. “Bullying was becoming a big issue,” he says. And it still is: In 2019, the last pre-pandemic academic year, about 22 percent of kids (ages 12–18) reported that they’d been bullied at school and 16 percent reported being bullied online. “We always look to our platform, which is sports, and see how we can leverage it to help kids.” Using the voices of local athletes was an obvious choice.
“Charles Barkley famously said that athletes aren’t role models. I would respectfully disagree,” Sullivan says. “Kids look up to athletes and they listen to athletes. There’s a lot of power in the uniform.”
In past years, Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Aly Raisman, former Red Sox star Mookie Betts and US Women’s National Soccer Team member Kristie Mewis have participated. This year’s roster, in addition to Bonds, Story and Williams, includes soccer player Brandon Bye (New England Revolution), hockey players Charlie Coyle (Boston Bruins) and Jillian Dempsey (Boston Pride), football player Matthew Judon (New England Patriots) and runner Heather MacLean (US Olympian at 1500m). “What makes the program really powerful is who’s delivering the content,” Sullivan says.
The Boston vs. Bullies program offers lessons on physical, verbal, relational and cyber bullying and explains the roles of the bullied, the bully and the bystander. The curriculum was developed by Kim Storey, an education and research consultant, in partnership with Sullivan, director of education Michelle Gormley and The Sports Museum staff. And it works.
I do all kinds of video work, but not all of it is something where I can say, ‘Wow, I did something that made this world a better place.’Jason Carter
In 2018, a team of researchers—led by two BU Wheelock College of Education & Human Development faculty, Jennifer Greif Green, an associate professor of special education, and Melissa K. Holt, an associate professor of counseling psychology—studied the program’s efficacy. They found that participants understood bullying better, displayed more assertiveness and responsibility when encountering bullying, and had a lower acceptance of aggressive behavior and peer victimization, although results did vary among schools. Their findings were published in the January 2020 Journal of School Violence.
While the hosts and facilitators deliver the education material, it’s the athletes who give the program its personal touch. Sure, they recite some predictably punchy taglines: “Boston vs. Bullies—let’s win this one together!” But they also share their childhood experiences. Grant Williams recalls being mocked for his weight and passion for musicals. Heather MacLean was bullied for her out-of-fashion clothes. And Chanté Bonds didn’t fit in with the other girls in her class because of her interest in sports.
When Sullivan went looking for someone to produce the inaugural video series, he didn’t need to go far: At the time, Carter was a TD Garden camera operator for Celtics and Bruins games. Many of those clips of slam dunks, dancing fans and on-court ceremonies flashing up on the arena’s video screens came from Carter’s camera. “He was the right guy to ride shotgun with us on this because he knows the sports world,” Sullivan says. “He knows the teams, he knows the athletes. And he understands these film shoots, where we have 30 minutes with someone and need to be ready to go.”
Carter, who left his job at TD Garden before the pandemic, applies the same philosophy whether he’s teaching or working for a client: “It’s all about storytelling—and video is one of the most effective storytelling mediums we have.”
For Boston vs. Bullies 3.0, Carter recruited two recent COM alums. Shanna Martinez (’22) helped him cast the three hosts who present lessons in the videos, and Dominique Charest–Ciampa (’22) provided production assistance. They filmed the host segments in COM’s Studio East television production studio.
The revised program will be distributed to a new generation of fourth and fifth graders in schools across Massachusetts as well as in southern New Hampshire, southern Maine and Rhode Island.
“I was so proud to be part of the team that created this project,” Carter says. “And now tens of thousands of kids have taken this program. I’d like to think it’s had a real effect.”
New videos are posted on the program’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/bostonvsbullies/videos