Eagles' Herremans tackles bullying

Posted: June 21, 2011

AT 6-6, 320, Todd Herremans seems an unlikely champion for those who have been beaten and bullied.

Throw in the tiny Michigan town where he was raised, and it borders on the absurd.

But then the Eagles tackle starts talking about his February appearance on "The View," about the courage of 13-year-old Upper Darby bully victim Nadin Khoury, and you realize the only absurdity is that organizations such as "No Place for Hate" need to exist at all.

"I was asked if I was bullied on radio the other day, and I was like, 'No, are you kidding me?' " Herremans was saying over the phone yesterday. "I grew up in a small farm town and we just went about our day. But as I thought about it more, I remembered that I got teased for being fat. 'Cause I was a fat kid for a while. And then after I got over being called the fat kid, or kind of accepted it - I don't know if I was insecure or not. But I would start to pick on other people."

Verbal jabs, taunts, even teasing that purports to be good-natured but devolves quickly into meanness - Herremans said he had his "eyes opened" after watching the video of Khoury being dragged, beaten, stuffed into a tree and finally hung by his coat on a metal spiked fence for no apparent reason by seven schoolmates.

The video went viral, and Khoury, his mother and aunt were asked to appear on "The View." Aware of the boy's love of the Eagles - and particularly diminutive wide receiver DeSean Jackson - the network contacted the team to see about an appearance.

Jackson came, of course. And so did Herremans and 6-4, 320-pound Jamaal Jackson.

"They were, like, it's about bullying, let's get two of our biggest guys," Herremans said with a laugh.

They got more. They got an advocate. On Thursday at the SugarHouse Casino, Herremans will host a benefit called "Don't Mess With Todd" that will raise money for "No Place for Hate," a division of the Anti-Defamation League that works with high schools and universities to "create more inclusive learning environments where all students feel safe and respected and empowered to be allies."

The event is open to the public (www.dmwt.ticketleap.com), Herremans has an incomplete list of Eagles and local luminaries attending, and according to a press release accompanying the event, there will be prizes, drinks, a band, the works.

Should there be an NFL season, it will be Herremans' eighth as an Eagle. Incrementally, subtly, his profile in this town has risen each year, to the point that he is now one of the recognized leaders of a team that has transitioned greatly over the last two seasons. When some Eagles sought to work out together during the lockout, Herremans arranged it.

It made sense. At 28, he's made Philadelphia his primary home these days, spending much of his offseason here.

This is his first foray into hosting charity events.

But not his last.

Being on "The View" that day, watching the video of the bullying and the emotional recounting of the episode by Khoury, a smallish, handsome teen, Herremans walked out determined to be more than a part of a memorable episode. He promised the kid and his family tickets. He found the ADL, or they found him, and this Thursday's event is the first offshoot of that alliance.

"I think a lot of bullying comes down to insecurity, to feeling threatened themselves," he said. "Whether your parents raised you a certain way or not, you're sitting around and you realize that other kid is different than you. And I guess what we're trying to do is open everybody's eyes to, 'Yeah, that kid is different from you, but that's OK.' "

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 12 percent of all deaths among youth and young adults in the U.S. result from suicides. A CDC survey also puts the percentage of high school students who said they had been bullied on school property to be nearly 20 percent. Five percent said they skipped at least one day in 30 out of concerns for their safety and an incredible 26.1 percent showed signs of teenage depression.

Almost 14 percent of students polled nationwide admitted to thoughts of suicide. Not all of this was because of bullying, but there have been enough headlines linking the two that a new and troubling word - bullycide - has seeped into our lexicon.

"I think when kids feel like they're so different or out of the loop or whatever, they can go one way or another," Herremans said. "They can either shut down or flip the switch to be terrible to someone."

Neither is much of an option. A bigger more encompassing and empathetic loop . . . that's the idea Herremans walked out of the studios with that day.

Thursday's fundraiser is another step.

Send email to donnels@phillynews.com.

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