Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bullying is Never Acceptable

I’m still glowing from wedding joy, but I have to return to the real world. Over the past days, a story has surfaced involving the University of Illinois Women’s Basketball Program. Four players have transferred to other programs; an assistant coach has resigned, effective immediately; and three sets of parents have written to the university higher-ups with allegations of abuse, harassment, creation of racial tensions and general nastiness that is affecting the entire program. Two other sets of parents have written letters defending the coaches, saying their daughters have not experienced any of the above.

This has troubled me so much that I cannot stop thinking about it. I cannot stop thinking about it because I have been in a similar situation, and I have watched another similar situation. The fact that bullying may be legal does not make it acceptable, and it is incumbent on those in authority to put a stop to it.

(Disclaimer: I don’t know anyone in the UI Women’s Basketball Program, and I am in no way accusing anyone of anything. I am speaking strictly from my own experience and what I have witnessed personally, and how eerily similar these allegations are.]

This is what I know. Abusers divide and conquer. Abusers create tensions between people who otherwise would work beautifully as a team. Abusers make inappropriate comments to people and then say they were misunderstood if anyone is offended and/or complains about it. Abusers can be especially nasty to individuals when no one is watching and then can appear to be completely opposite to those same individuals when there are witnesses.

People who are being abused or watching abuse change. Their body language changes. Their behavior changes. Their ability to be productive changes. And it’s important to remember that abusers don’t abuse everybody, so some people don’t understand why others are having a problem. That’s all part of the “divide and conquer” approach. Another symptom of a toxic environment – people leave. If people have other options, or sometimes even if they don’t, they leave. Most importantly, the tone is set at the top, and if the person/people at the top do not tolerate abuse and bad behavior, it doesn’t happen, or if it is happening, it ends, because they take action.

Having said that, let’s review: Four players have transferred to other programs, and an assistant coach has resigned. That SCREAMS that there is a problem.


For the full texts of the three parent letters, see the above link. This is all now public record.

These are various points made in one letter:

  1. Coach Bollant has systematically tried to create racial tension among the team.
  2. He has verbally abused and berated girls based on personal attributes that have nothing to do with basketball (such as their intellectual ability).
  3. He has systematically tried to discourage team members to the point of voluntary scholarship withdrawal, particularly players that were in the program before he became head coach.
  4. Without reasonable cause or violation, on numerous occasions he has threatened to take players scholarships, including telling them not to bother to renew their apartment leases because they would not be remaining with the team.
  5. [He is] showing extreme preference in what could only be perceived as attempts to belittle and discourage all but the favored players.

From another letter:
We dropped [our daughter] off a happy, healthy, 143-pound athlete that was excited to be a part of something special. What we got was a depressed, overweight, under confident, abused, bullied young shell of our daughter. We were shocked and greatly disturbed by our daughter's appearance only after 6 weeks.
The two head coaches used their power to dominate these young women mentally and verbally, which silenced their voices as women. We as parents have had to re-instill in our daughters that their treatment was not normal and not OK.

Then from the third letter:
With Coach Bollant's full knowledge, Coach Divilbiss would verbally attack players on and off the court about personal issues in their lives. 

This is what is the most troubling to me, and forgive me for stating the obvious. This is the University of Illinois. These are talented and bright young women who have been verbally beaten down. This is not just tough love. These are all the symptoms of abuse and bullying. It should not happen to anyone, but the fact that it is allegedly happening at the University of Illinois? As one parent letter said, and this is heartbreaking to me: “Let me be most clear. One of the most exciting days in this family's life was the day that [our daughter] accepted the offer to play basketball at the University of Illinois.”

I’m trying very hard to take the emotion out of my words. I’m trying to be objective. And I so desperately want to believe it’s not true. But I recognize these accusations all too well, and it’s making me incredibly sad.

Hooray for these parents. Hooray for them showing their daughters that they have their backs and they believe in them. Hooray for them empowering these young women to know they have options, and that they deserve better.

As for the higher-ups, as I said before, and as I experienced, if the people at the top do not tolerate abusive behavior, it will stop. It doesn’t matter if it may be legal or if it doesn’t violate NCAA rules. Bullying at any level is never acceptable, and the University of Illinois leaders need to enforce that standard. They need to give this more than lip service, and they need to do so immediately.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

I Don't Cry at Weddings

I really don’t cry at weddings. Occasionally my eyes well up at something sweet. I do smile a lot. I enjoy weddings when I’m happy about the couple; but I don’t get outwardly emotional. I really never have.

And then I witnessed the wedding of Amie and Brittany.

I don’t want to tell their story because it is, of course, their story to tell, but I do want to tell my version of the love and the joy and the emotion I witnessed yesterday, when my niece married the woman who is clearly the love of her life, and there is no question the feeling is mutual.

Seriously, Andee, again with the damn waterworks?? Stop it already!

When we learned about Brittany and Amie being a couple, every single Chestnut welcomed the news with joy and support. As you may know, that’s a hell of a lot of Chestnuts. And every single one was happy……..because our Brittany was happy. Truly, joyously happy.

Well, as I said, yesterday was their wedding. All you needed to be convinced it was right was to look at their faces. I don’t think I can describe them well enough to do this justice, but I’ll try. Of course, they were both stunningly beautiful, but there was also a radiance. A glow. You could actually feel it. I’ve never really experienced anything quite like it.

Some people started crying just seeing them walk down the aisle. Some got teary watching them stand together holding hands and looking at each other as their brothers stood up with them. The judge said many beautiful words that brought out tissues. But as they said their vows, and we heard the words, “You made me feel normal”…… Yeah, you can take it from there.

Again, I don’t want to say too much about what is really their story, so I will say this. It was more than your usual Chestnut wedding (which are all lovely and hilariously fun). With a family so big, though, it’s really hard for everyone to be able to attend every wedding. But this one was important. Nobody said it. Everybody just knew it. Cousins flew home from New York and California. Every Chestnut was there. It was that important.

Little did we know when both families rallied around this beautiful couple, what it would do for all of us. If you were there, you know what I’m saying. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am to have been included.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had a few moments in my life when I could say I experienced pure joy. This was one.

Thank you, Amie & Brittany.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Story Continues

As I pointed out in my last post, I did have more to say about the events surrounding the new addition to our family, but it didn’t really fit into the “flow” of what I was writing. So here is the rest of it.

I mentioned last time there was a funny story about Nathan sliding into the world on November 5th. I need to rewind a bit to an evening when Matthew and I were in the middle of some type of serious entertainment that I totally can’t remember, when out of the blue, he asked how the baby would come out of his mommy’s belly. Ohhhhhh, noooooo! I had no idea how to respond to that. I didn’t know what he had been told, what words had been used, how much information they wanted him to have (does anyone else remember the Friends episode when Chandler unknowingly told the boy he was adopted?), and there I was, expected to answer. So, as one who has always been good at thinking on her feet, I said the obvious. “It’s kind of like going down a slide, only slower.” Yes, I did. In my defense, however, I was not prepared! Then, of course, I had to fess up to the parents, and I got the usual proud response from Leah. “Really, Mother?” Yes, when she throws down the mother card, she’s especially pleased with me. So, you can imagine the grief I got from my girls…..more than the usual grief even.

Now, let’s fast forward to November 5th, shall we? Labor story, epidural, long day, contractions, blah, blah. Dave and I were in the room, until push came to shove if you know what I mean. At that point, I went out in the hall to text my fellow grandma who couldn’t be there until later and a few others who were following us. Dave went to get Matthew at his preschool. I had just finished texting, “She's pushing!!!” when all of a sudden, I see the light above the door flashing red, and at least five nurses were running down the hall to the room. Fortunately, I didn’t have time to panic because just then I heard a baby crying! Our grandbaby, excuse me for pointing this out, had just slid into the world. Who’s looking like she knows a thing or two now?

It turns out, the light was flashing and the nurses were running because the nurse in the room had called, “Baby is coming without doctor!” It also explains why some nurses walked away when they heard the baby crying (I was mildly offended at first until I realized that meant everything was okay.) Then I did something I learned from my own mother after Lindsay was born. First, of course, I had to announce to every stranger walking by, that that was my grandbaby crying! It’s just a thing you do. You can’t help yourself. Then I stood outside the door, and every time the door opened, which was a lot, I asked, “Can I come in? Can I come in? Can I come in?” The trick is, as you say it, you keep walking in, and pretty soon, unless your child says for you to get out, they give up and let you in. I may have been a little pushy, but I got some darn good pictures of that cute little baby, and I got to hug my own baby, which was the best part of all. Anyway, my point of this very long story is, family repeat after me, Gaya was right.

I’ve often wondered how parents with twins, or more than twins, do it. I don’t know if it’s easier when they are the same age or harder. I can see advantages and disadvantages to both. I can tell you this, though, one is tough, and the degree of difficulty definitely goes up with the number of children. That doesn’t mean you love them less, because that’s just not possible. I learned from having my own kids, when another child comes into the world, your heart just expands accordingly. But the tired factor ……. yowser! Having two little ones was tiring enough when I was 30 and part of a great team. Being, well, older, is just exhausting. I now understand how my parents would feel after an overnight with our girls. They would beg for us to let them visit, but then would be ready to collapse when we came to pick them up. I get it now. And would I ever say no? Not in a million years.

After the first week of watching the kids while the babysitter was gone, I went home and slept away the weekend. It does usually take a good 48 hours to recover. Then Sunday night, I got a text from Leah asking what kind of bribe it would take for me to come back to help for a couple more days. She said she’d buy me all the Portillo’s I wanted. I responded that I was thinking more along the lines of a granddaughter. I was quickly informed I needed to “tell Lindsay to get on it.” Well, I tried. And of course, I went up and helped with the kids. If you’re lucky, that’s what you get to do. And, as I’ve pointed out before, then you get to go home. It really is a great gig!