GSP uses bully pulpit for noble cause

Georges St. Pierre is the welterweight champion of the UFC.

He boasts a 21-2 record and hasn’t lost in more than four years. He’s a stylish dresser, is known internationally by his initials “GSP” and Saturday will battle Jake Shields in the main event of UFC 129 where he’ll be supported by 55,000-plus adoring fans in his native Canada.

Life wasn’t always this good.

“I had a rough childhood, big problems,” GSP told Yahoo! Sports, and unlike so many athletes, it wasn’t because he was poor or from a dangerous neighborhood or from a broken home.

One of the toughest men in the world was bullied as a kid. And now GSP wants to do anything he can to offer comfort to those in a similar circumstance while attempting to prevent bullying in general.

“I didn’t have many friends growing up,” St. Pierre explained. “I’m from a small town. I was an intellectual person. People who were friends with me were intellectuals, they were not popular either. They weren’t the hockey player that everyone wanted to be like.

“I had an acne problem. I was just not dressing very well. I was not very popular with girls.”

He sighs a bit at the memory.

“I just wasn’t a popular guy.”

It’s the thing with bullying: All these years, all this fame, all these cheering fans later and the emotions remain raw.

St. Pierre, now 29, still remembers the fear of being 10 years old and the new kid in school. He still remembers how that pack of older kids that tormented him looked. He still remembers plotting escape routes after class. He still recalls dreading the next day, remembers the restless sleep, and relives the loneliness and the hopelessness that it will never end.

St. Pierre was an easy target back then, growing up in rural Quebec. He was skinny. He was into this quirky karate, not hockey. He loved school, although the bullying by a group of 13-year-olds was so bad it even ruined that.

Not every childhood bullying victim grows up to become a UFC champion. But Georges St. Pierre wants to kids to know that things won't always be bad.
(Getty Images)

“It’s a very hostile environment,” he said. “You’re not going to school to learn, you’re going to school to survive. You’re really scared. You hate school because [afterward] you’re getting beat up. You don’t think about what the teacher is telling you, you’re thinking about running away when you hear the ringing of the bell. You need to get your books and get out of class and get to the bus before the kids catch you.”

And that’s what helps motivate GSP today. He wonders about all the damage done by what was once seen as an innocent kids-will-be-kids activity. How many good students were lost? How many people had their confidence ruined, for life?

St. Pierre had a fighter’s heart even then, so he often stood his ground and battled back. He lost over and over, naturally. Older kids are bigger, stronger, more coordinated. And where there was just one of him, there were two or three or four of them.

Eventually the script flipped, of course. St. Pierre grew. His martial arts skills improved.

“I became strong enough to defend myself,” he said. “By 14, 15, nobody could touch me.”

He isn’t naïve. His path out of being bullied won’t work for most people. This is a world-class athlete. The vast majority of kids aren’t going to transform into Georges St. Pierre by high school.

It would be ridiculous for him to just tell them to learn to fight.

“Not everyone is able to fight back,” he said. “I know that.”

His anti-bullying message is twofold. First is to the afflicted: It won’t last forever. As difficult as it is to see the light at the end of the tunnel, as long as those desperate days feel, as stinging as the embarrassment is, no one stays a kid forever.

“Things change,” he promised. “When you’re young you think everything will stay the same. It won’t. Everything will change. You just have to keep going.”

He laughed for a second at a memory.

“There was a girl at my school, I won’t say her name, but she was the most popular girl, the prettiest girl. Everyone treated her like the queen of the school.”

He saw her recently.

“Now she is fat and ugly.”

The second message is for the bullies. Most are acting up because of their own insecurities and fear. Many of them don’t realize the damage they are inflicting; they can’t see the bigger picture. They don’t realize how pathetic they look.

“I don’t just want to help the kids who are bullied, I want the bullies to change their minds and know it is a bad thing to do. It goes both ways.”

Many bullies wind up embarrassed and regretful over their actions. Maybe by pointing out that bullies are neither confident nor cool, maybe there is one less bully. Maybe by getting the neutral bystanders to understand that bullies should be mocked by the crowd, not celebrated, there is one less incident.

As strange as it sounds coming from a former victim, he understands where the perpetrators are coming from.

“I never got the chance to make my revenge on the kids that bullied me,” he said. “And I don’t want to do that now. Young kids do dumb things. I am not angry at [them]. I forgive [them].”

[Related: How Georges St. Pierre gains over 20 lbs in a day]

Still, today’s reality has its moments.

St. Pierre was at a mall near Montreal a few years ago when he saw one of those kids who used to pummel him after class; who caused those sleepless nights; who tried to ruin his self-confidence in an effort to prop up his own.

GSP was a world champ by then, rich, famous and more than capable of beating the guy silly. They were a long, long way from that school yard.

As they passed each other, St. Pierre said he looked at the guy and nodded his head as a sign of recognition. He means it when he says he’s forgiven.

The old bully just dropped his head, stared at his shoes and shuffled by.

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Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Apr 26, 2011