“Whenever one person stands up and says, “Wait a minute; this is wrong,” it helps others do the same. Steinem
When I was nine years old in 1954, I played on the first Little League baseball team in
my community of Edison Park, Chicago. Because little league was a new thing back
then, the teams were comprised of boys, ages nine through 12. Not surprisingly, the
best players were the older boys; the nine-year-olds, like me, were the worst. I filled
that role well, playing right field and batting last. My talented teammates looked like
men to me: bigger, stronger and, of course, more competent and confident than I.
But today’s newsletter isn’t about me. Instead it’s about Jerry Krause and, perhaps
all of us. Who was Jerry Krause? Astute sports fans recognize that Jerry was the
general manager of the Chicago Bulls. His name has been refreshed as a result of the
current ESPN series entitled, “The Last Dance.” It chronicles the last of the Bulls’
record-setting sixth NBA championship, with a particular focus on the legendary
Michael Jordan. In the series ( still running now) it depicts MJ as a bully, a
charismatic figure and, appropriately, the greatest basketball player in the world.
Conversely, Jerry Krause is represented as the villain who broke up the Bulls but
also as the victim of Jordan’s mocking and incessant ridicule. “The Last Dance” is the
inside story about the most loved man in Chicago and the most hated one. After 30
years, at the age of 45, not much had changed for Jerry Krause.
In 1954, Jerry Krause was 15. Short, fat, and with a perpetual sweaty upper lip that
appeared to be hydroponically maintained, Jerry was the manager of my baseball
team. He was the classic sports wannabe, not good enough to make his high school
team but wanting to be involved in sports. He turned to involvement via coaching
and, later, to scouting for basketball and baseball teams. A failure as an athlete, Jerry
parlayed his keen eye and love of games into a career in professional sports. Hard-
working and relentless when it came to his job, Jerry moved up the organizational
pyramid via the sweat on his……..upper lip.
But back to 1954. Jerry was the manager of my team, but also a kid living in a typical
adolescent environment and culture. Among his teenaged peers, Jerry was the
constant victim of ongoing derision. They mocked his hanging out with “little kids,”
asserting (probably correctly) that he had no friends his own age. As a nine-year-old,
I watched this and, of course, said nothing. I certainly had no status to challenge the
bullies, but I would have been afraid to anyway. So, I watched and said nothing.
For the next 30 years, Jerry Krause disappeared from my life until I picked up a copy
of the Chicago Tribune while visiting my family. The sports section article referenced
“Jerry Krause, general manager of the Chicago Bulls………” The name jumped out at
me, but the accompanying photo confirmed my recollections. Wearing a rumpled
suit and off-centered necktie, I recognized him readily. The social pariah of my little
league team had hit it big. He had drafted Michael Jordan and, apparently, turned the
jeers into cheers. Or had he?
As I watched the ESPN series unfold, it showed sadly that little had changed in Jerry’s
life. The bully was bigger, more charismatic and famous, but still a bully. Jordan’s
teammates, bystanders of their leader’s ridicule of GM Jerry, chimed in as well. The
Bulls’ locker room of the championship 90’s looked much like Olympia Park in 1954.
Jerry Krause was older and more successful, but still the butt of jibes. Nothing had
The dynamics of bullying follows a familiar pattern. Bullies and victims seem to find
each other in their dysfunctional dance. Watchers of the ESPN special saw Jerry
Krause nervously contend that the historic Bulls were part of a great organization,
rather than simply a great team. And the casual viewer’s conclusion? That Krause is,
pathetically, begging for credit at the expense of the team that he oversaw. Once
again, the audience of the sad “dance” between bully(Jordan) and victim(Krause),
sided with the bully rather than the victim.
Those who understand social dynamics see that individuals fall into behavioral roles.
Bullies find victims to abuse and, strangely, victims seem to position themselves
conveniently in the crosshairs of their persecutors. And bystanders do little but
watch, grateful that they aren’t the targets of sarcasm or “good natured teasing.”
There are three morals to this journey into the author’s personal history and
1. Don’t be a bully
2. Don’t be a victim
3. Don’t be a bystander
OK, but what’s left? Be an assertive person. Statistically, of the three roles listed above, most of us were/are bystanders. We don’t pick on anyone, and we are silently grateful to not be singled out for disdain. To move out of our comfort zone, our secure, safe status, requires courage. Speaking up is a risk. It also inevitably leads to a degree of loneliness. Speaking out often earns the assertive person a degree of social isolation. The bully may momentarily back off when confronted but will later extract revenge silently.
None of the Chicago Bulls was strong enough to stick up for Jerry Krause and against their charismatic bully, Michael Jordan. Jerry Kruse, sadly, never learned that praising his team’s performance would garner respect instead of ridicule. And MJ wasn’t a big enough man to put his arm around little Jerry and give him the credit he deserved for building a great team. Had Jordan done so, what would likely have been the result? Probably, continued success for all and an atmosphere of shared good feeling.
A spiritual leader once characterized “ego” as a synonym for “evil.” There’s wisdom in that analogy as played out in ESPN series and, perhaps, in all of our daily lives.
Look in the mirror.
“The human race tends to remember the abuses to which it has been subjected rather than the endearments. What’s left of kisses? Wounds, however, leave scars.” Bertolt Brecht