WWE superstars show softer side with anti-bullying message

WWE diva Natalya and star performer David Otunga led the students at Mary Ford Elementary in “don’t be a bully” cheer on Tuesday. Buy this photo

It might seem a tad ironic, or even slightly disingenuous, that World Wrestling Entertainment would launch an anti-bullying program.

After all, the foundation of pro wrestling is fighting, and the “violence” — albeit masterfully choreographed — revolves around intimidation and physical combat with little in the way of mediation or polite discourse.

But the message two of the pro wrestling juggernaut’s superstars delivered Tuesday to fourth- and fifth-grade students at Mary Ford Elementary struck a chord as resounding as a John Cena “Attitude Adjustment.”

“Don’t be a bully — be a star. Show tolerance and respect” was the theme driven home by WWE performer David Otunga and WWE diva Natalya.

The two, who visited the North Charleston school before a WWE show at the North Charleston Coliseum, spoke with students and shared personal experiences.

Everyone, even a pro wrestler, knows that no one deserves to be bullied. Everyone deserves to be respected, the WWE stars told the students.

“I’ve never met a person who hasn’t been bullied or been affected by it,” Natalya said. “WWE has a big platform that allows us to reach out and touch kids.”

She said arming kids with knowledge and support is the best way to put a stop to bullying.

“Everyone can put an end to it,” she said. “You have the power.”

“I was definitely bullied,” said Otunga, a 6-foot, 230-pound Mack Truck of a man. “I didn’t always look like this. As a kid I was short, chubby and had thick glasses. To make matters worse, I was a good student. They would call me nerd, dork, you name it.”

It was simply raising awareness of the problem, Otunga said, that made the difference. He said he overcame the bully attacks by telling a trusted teacher about it.

“Eventually one of my teachers pulled me aside, brought the other kids in, and we all talked,” he said. “They didn’t realize how their words affected me. The bullying stopped.”

WWE’s “Be a STAR (Show Tolerance and Respect)” program, which partnered with Communities in Schools for the event, provides students, teachers and parents with tools and resources to help put an end to bullying. It promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages people to treat others as equals and with respect.

Tuesday’s rally ended with an anti-bullying chant.

“The kids were thrilled today. You could feel the excitement,” said Mary Ford Principal Mary Reynolds. “I’m sure they will never forget this.”

The messages resonated with the students.

Fifth-grader Jakai Grant, 11, said he learned a lot.

“I liked how they talked about being bullied,” he said.

As for critics who claim pro wrestling sells violence to viewers, Otunga is quick to point out that “the good always triumphs over the bad.”

“If you watch the storylines from beginning to end, yes, there are bullies, but the moral of it is that they never win,” he said.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 937-5517.

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