Friday, 250,000 Toronto students observed a moment of silence in memory of British Columbia bullying victim Amanda Todd.
In the wake of that silence comes a cacophony of denunciation for bullying and support for the bullied.
Add the voice Borje Salming, often cited as the Leafs greatest player, to the chorus.
Like celebrities Lady Gaga, Eminem, Michael Phelps and Chris Rock, Salming endured a torrent of bullying. In the 1970s, the most prominent Swedish player to break into the NHL was frequently attacked by Canadian players eager to chase the interlopers back to Sweden.
Salming, 61, says he can’t speak to the terrible toll bullying inflicts on young people who find themselves overwhelmed by bullies in school hallways and on the internet. He was a man playing in a league that permitted fighting, not a 13-year-old like Amanda, systematically harassed into taking her life.
But Salming, a father of four including two teens, does not remember bullying as a minor inconvenience that made him a stronger person or a story told with a cheery sense of nostalgia. Bullying is, especially for young people, a potentially devastating and even fatal evil.
“We’re talking about this a lot in Sweden as well,” said Salming. “It’s got to stop. If you could feel what a bullied person feels, you would realize how terrible it is.
“You have to respect people, in school, in every part of life. When you see someone bullied you have to act and make sure that person is helped. You have to tell bullies they’re doing the wrong thing. You have to speak up. We have to educate people.”
The NHL has joined millions of American and Canadians in urging people to ‘go purple’ to stand up against bullying and support lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.
Patrick Burke, son of Leafs GM Brian Burke and president of You Can Play, an initiative that strives to make sport welcoming to everyone, told NHL.com the nature of bullying has changed dramatically.
“You talk to people who are older, they tend to look at bullying in a different light. They see it as lighthearted. It’s different now,” said Burke, a Flyers scout. “[In the past] If you wanted to insult somebody, you had to say it to their face and there were repercussions. With online bullying, you can slander people and not have to look at them. That makes people willing to say things they wouldn’t say with the person in the room. It’s something that needs to end.”
As if to exemplify that bullies can find another way, the most notorious fighter of Salming’s era is working on an anti-bullying campaign.
Schultz is the President of “Put Bullying on Ice” program, an anti-bullying campaign targeted at young students across America (www.PutBullyingOnIce.com).