University of Tennessee stands by elementary school kid bullied for his fandom

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What a great response from UT. Kid’s got some design chops!


For various reasons, I loath UT.

Except in this instance, when they were awesome.


This is a heartwarming story, and the resulting tee-shirt is pretty sweet (although it is reminiscent of my sister-in-law “enjoying” my 2yo’s pronunciations of words by mirroring them back to her, rather than speaking clearly…) BUT the question remains, how does a Florida elementary school student fall in love with a Tennessee university?


Can we please determine the line in the sand where “kids teasing other kids” and “bullying” actually is and what if any grey area there is between the intersection point?

“Devestated” because some girls at the next table laugh at you is not what I would classify as bullying.

Getting the ever loving crap kicked out of him unless he turns over his new kicks; or perhaps getting death threats and the like because he likes UT and not [insert fave sports team here]…seems more of the bullying line.

Good on UT for backing up a young fan…the fact that they get to sell a bunch of newly minted goods must be nice; it would be nicer if the kid was getting some cut of the profits (not something I saw anywhere mentioned) or perhaps into a college fund for him?

I know I am being a bit cynical here.


His design was used commercially, surely the school made him a deal and Im hoping something much greater than “tons of exposure” the school’s design students would get.


Some girls at the lunch table next to him made fun of his shirt. Uh, since when did flirting become bullying?


I think that is a worthwhile point. Bullying can’t simply be critiquing a t-shirt or even holding it up to ridicule. It has to be systematic not ad hoc. Sometimes kids have disagreements. I don’t think it requires threats of violence. To some extent, if you are going to follow a variant path, you are going to get some blow-back from the in-group. This is part of developing your individuality.

In collectivist cultures, it can be pretty intense…

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Why are you so hung up on the word bullying?

A student did something creative and expressed himself to his peers and was unnecessarily shit on for it. Then a university wanted to do something nice and actually came up with another amazing idea!

Debating “bullying” feels petty.


I’m sure the kid thinks this is great, but did they even ask him before appropriating his design?

According to the university, a portion of the proceeds from every shirt sold will go to an anti-bullying foundation.

It would be nice to hear that a “portion” of the proceeds would actually go back to the kid, as payment for designing the shirt.


Boing Boing readers: we see the dark side in everything.


I’m in the East Bay and didn’t much care for football when I was in elementary school and all the jerks at school were Raiders fans, so I declared myself to be a 49ers fan when they were utterly terrible. Became an SF Giants fan much the same way. Maybe he’s just be reflexively anti-FSU, which I understand.


Came here wondering the same thing.

I have a hard time getting the feel-goods from a story that seems to boil down to a big corporate entity turning a kid’s personal misery into a new revenue stream by infringing his copyright and not even bothering to compensate him for it. Put that “portion” of proceeds into a college fund for the kid, since he was a big enough fan that he effectively designed a new popular t-shirt for y’all.


You know that whole “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” saying?

yeah, well, that is a bunch of horseshit. Words harm. Whether it is a racist, sexist, ableist, or just mean. This kid may already be struggling to fit in at school and maybe his parents can’t afford a real shift from his favorite team. If that is so, being made fun for this could be deeply painful. And we don’t know if this is a one time incident or if the kids pick on him all the time. This is just like anything else…if the kid felt bullied, it is bullying.

And maybe if we had grown ups who taught kids to react to something like this by saying, “hey dude, cool shirt” or not saying anything at all, we’d have less kid’s that grow up to be insensitive asshole adults.


That’s kind of the issue in how it is reported out, right?

I guess my point is…there is a certain level of normal teasing and ribbing that happens with children naturally, additionally there is a normal amount of criticism we face daily (from childhood through adulthood). Was this that acceptable bit of adversity that life throws at you whether you are 5 or 50? or was this more. I’d argue we don’t really know. But we shouldn’t scream “fire” and call in the entire department when it was simply burned popcorn in the microwave.



If anything, words can have a more lasting impact than fists can. So one can absolutely be bullied with nothing more than words.

(I do agree with the poster upthread who suggested a scholarship fund for this young person-- that would have been awesome.)


That doesn’t exactly make it ok, or right. If you say something and it hurts someone’s feelings you should feel bad and apologize and learn from your mistakes.

There is good natured teasing that you do with friends. and there is mean spirited teasing that hurts. According to this kid’s teacher this was the hurtful kind. That is never ok. have you even been teased and hurt by it?


There is an awful lot to unpack here. Most of which is a lot of assumptions about me and my opinion on the matter.

First: I was bullied as a kid. I am not talking “that girl laughed at me for wearing a superman tee shirt to school” I am talking about every single day for 6 years getting off the bus with something else bruised, bloodied, or my person otherwise harmed. Including once being hung off a spike by my actual underwear at the bus stop.

Second: I am an artist by education and have faced plenty of criticism to my work and had to put myself out there and be exposed to something so near and dear to me and face rejection that combined with the “FIRST” is why I am so reluctant to ever share things with anyone because of the scars that left.

You may not like the real world outlook of “suck it up buttercup” but that’s the reality we live in and it hasn’t changed in the half century I’ve been around and don’t see it changed any time soon. We have to learn to deal with disappointment and criticism. Sometimes completely valid “Your resume is good but we are seeking someone with better credentials sorry”, to painfully heart breaking but necessary “I am sorry kid, but you just weren’t good enough to make the team. You need better skills and more practice”, to the annoying but not earth shattering “hey four eyes” or some other juvenile playground ribbing.

You jumped right to the extremes of what no one should have to face and we can do everything in our power to curb (racism, sexism, ableism)…but do you think for one second a little kid being laughed at by other little kids because they think something is “bad” is on that same level?

If you do…I am sorry we have zero to discuss and you can have a nice day and leave me out of it.


There’s actually some really inventive design happening on this shirt. The student made some non-obvious choices that work quite well—particularly what he did with “of”, “university”, and “Tennessee.”


words can hurt and they can be devastating. Based on what the story described, is this what should be devastating to an elementary school kid (the girls at the next table making fun of his shirt)?

Seems the adults in his sphere of influence DID take action and help him out to remind him that even though these other kids didn’t like his shirt they did. and the the adults at UT also took action to support him. All good things which I have not argued against.