CRYSTAL LAKE – When two West Elementary School fifth-graders noticed some of their fellow classmates getting picked on at school, they called on the son of one of the most famous athletes in Chicago sports history to speak out against bullying.
Jarrett Payton, son of Chicago Bears great Walter Payton, spoke to West Elementary fourth and fifth graders about the dangers of bullying, and he urged students to get to know their classmates before judging them.
"We come from different backgrounds," Payton said to the students. "We come from different places. Different family structures. Make sure you're asking people questions. Don't always assume that someone is this way because of who they hang out with … If you ask people a couple questions, you might figure out that you have a lot in common."
Payton told the students about how he was bullied in high school, and how he was constantly told he would never achieve success compared to his hall-of-fame father. But after playing football for the University of Miami and getting signed by the Tennessee Titans, and later starting the Jarrett Payton Foundation aimed at helping children, he was able rise above the negativity and become a leader.
"That's the reason I started my foundation," he said. "Because when I was in high school, I went through a situation where I got bullied, and it was on a totally different level, and I just didn't want anyone else to have to go through some of that stuff I had to go through. So I decided to make this foundation and use my platform to be able to help impact people's lives on a daily basis."
Payton came to West after fifth graders Peyton Falco and Zach Stricker wrote him a letter detailing the bullying happening in their school. The two hoped Payton's words would remind other students the importance of treating everyone with respect.
"We have a bullying problem at our school," Falco said. "We saw that [Payton] was doing a bullying [campaign], so that made me think he should probably come to our school … He's a role model and they want to be a role model too. They'll think, 'Oh, I shouldn't do that.' "
Falco said students will often bully others during recess, usually picking on kids who are less athletic.
"They get aggressive with other kids, and start picking on them and stuff," he said. "If they're playing a game they will leave that person out and it will make them sad … When I see kids get bullied, I sort of step up and say, 'Leave them alone.' And me and my friends just walk away."
"I'm so proud of these two boys," West Principal Marcia Hyma said. "They are true leaders of their school."
Hyma said most of the school bullying is concentrated to the playground, and she felt Payton's message really resonated with the students.
"It was truly inspirational," she said. "I'm excited that they have been able to hear him, and I believe they have been inspired by him. I think this will last them a lifetime."