All across the world, in classrooms, on schoolyards, and nowadays, on social media, an epidemic is thriving. We’re talking, of course, about bullying—an issue that, according to a recent UCLA study, over 28 percent of students in grades 6-12 have experienced.
Yes, every day, children and teenagers are driven to tears, depression—and in the most severe instances, suicide— by the ruthlessness of their peers. It’s a real problem, and unfortunately, not a new one either. The bullying epidemic is a long-standing one, affecting kids today just as it did their parents, and their parents before them.
And no kid is exempt from the problem. Even children who have gone on to become tremendously successful adults have dealt with bullying. That, of course, includes those kids who evolved into the most imposing athletes of today’s sporting landscape— from NFL quarterbacks, to boxers, to wrestlers, to NHL enforcers to NBA powerhouses. No, you wouldn’t know it looking at them today, but some of the most talented figures in modern sports were bullying victims. And now, using their fame as a platform to combat the issue, many of those athletes have opened up on the traumatizing experiences of their respective youths.
So, without further ado, here are 15 successful athletes who began their lives as bullied children.
15 Eve Torres
Former WWE Diva Eve Torres is one of many professional wrestlers— and one of even more female athletes—to have been bullied as a child. Despite the success she realized in her adult life, Torres has admitted to having been bullied throughout high school, and even into her early college years. Today, the Boston-born diva is worth millions of dollars and has legions of supporters behind her. She also teaches self-defence at a Gracie-owned jiu jitsu academy (did we mention she’s married to fourth-degree BJJ black belt Rener Gracie?). Needless to say, the villains of her youth are nowhere to be found.
14 Adonal Foyle
As an adult, Adonal Foyle became a titan of the NBA. Standing 6’10, and weighing in at around 270 lbs, he closed out his professional basketball career with a reputation as a talented overall player and excellent blocker. Yet as a child, Foyle says he was bullied for being skinny and uncoordinated, according to his personal website. The victim of ceaseless name-calling and teasing, the towering center admits that even today, the scars of his childhood bullying remain.
13 Drew Brees
Today, Drew Brees is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Things haven’t always been so peachy for the New Orleans Saints player, however. As a kid, Brees says he was frequently bullied for the birth mark on the right side of his face—which Oprah Winfrey once embarrassingly mistook for a smudge of lipstick. “I got all kinds of comments when I was kid,” Brees said in an interview with CNN. “They were trying to be malicious; they were trying to be hurtful.” It’s unlikely his childhood enemies would have much to say to him now.
12 Chris Bosh
Adonal Foyle isn’t the only NBA player who’s been the victim of bullying. Chris Bosh, a long-time staple of the Toronto Raptors, and current member of the Miami Heat roster, says that when he was a kid, he was bullied for being tall and skinny, and for speaking proper English—evidence of just how inventive bullies can be in their cruelty. Today, as one of the best players on the hardwood, those days are long gone. Yet Bosh will never forget his days as a bullying victim.
Before Stephen Farrelly—who is known more widely as Sheamus—emerged as a 6’6, 270-pound WWE superstar and the man behind the Brogue Kick, he was just another chubby kid in Dublin. "I had the same red hair, but I was small for my age and kind of chubby," The Celtic Warrior said in an interview with the Ottawa Sun. "I took a fair amount of abuse.” Nowadays, Sheamus dedicates a good deal of effort to combating bullying, having aligned himself with several noteworthy anti-bullying initiatives.
10 Junior dos Santos
Today, Junior dos Santos is renowned as one of the hardest hitters in the UFC. The former Heavyweight Champion, in the past, has beaten current Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez, current interim Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum, as well as men like Frank Mir, Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. It probably goes without saying, but messing with “JDS” today would not be wise. That said, the Brazilian slugger took his share of abuse as kid. Dos Santos claims to have been beaten up by bullies on three separate occasions.
9 Gerald Green
As a kid, a grievous injury separated Phoenix Suns forward Gerald Green from one of the fingers on his right hand. As a result, he was forced to traverse a childhood of name-calling and teasing. “They called me everything. I heard ‘alien hand’ and all kinds of names while growing up. I had a rough time with it because I remember feeling so much different and not wanting to go to school,” he told a crowd of students during a speech at Phoenix’s Loma Linda Elementary School. Today, Green dedicates much of his time anti-bullying initiatives.
8 Ronda Rousey
Before she became a medaling Olympian, the first-ever women’s Bantamweight Champion of the UFC, and one of the biggest superstars in today’s sporting world, Ronda Rousey was a victim of bullying. Just like so many other children, the undeniable “toughest woman on earth,” was on the receiving end of all kinds of weight-related schoolyard abuse. Today, not surprisingly, those bullies are nowhere to be found, and have been replaced by millions of dollars, even more fans, and a shiny gold belt. If success is the best revenge, Ms. Rousey has surely silenced her tormentors. And hey, if she hasn’t, she can just break their arms.
7 Dave Schultz
Dave Schultz is a retired NHL player who spent the best years of his career with the Philadelphia Flyers. 35 years after his retirement, he still holds the record for the most penalty minutes in a season, and remains one of the most renowned enforcers in NHL history. In short, Schultz was not the kind of player you wanted to tangle with. As a kid, however, the vaunted tough guy admits that he was the victim of severe bullying in his small Saskatchewan hometown. As a result, he spends much of his retirement dropping his gloves against bullying.
6 John Cena
Not even John Cena, who later evolved into one of pro wrestling’s biggest stars and championship staple of WWE, was immune to bullying as a child. A long time fan of hip hop, Cena grew up in an area of Massachusetts where the music wasn’t popular, and says he was bullied for his tastes, in this interview. Today, the 6’1 WWE icon is involved with several successful anti-bullying organizations, such as the Be-A-Star Anti-Bullying Campaign. His advice to bullied youth? “Put a smile on your face and do whatever you can to succeed.”
5 Michael Phelps
As the recipient of a whopping 22 medals across a number of different events, swimming sensation Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympians of all time, beating out even his fellow Olympic wonder Usain Bolt. Yet, before he rose to prominence as an athlete extraordinaire, he too was the victim of bullying. Phelps claims to have been teased relentlessly for his big ears, and ironically, the very same long arms that have elevated him to a status as one of the most accomplished athletes of all time.
4 Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has experienced a pretty treacherous fall from grace over the last few years, but it wasn’t all that long ago that he was the veritable face of golf. The winner of 79 PGA tours, he amassed both renown and fortune as one of the best golfers ever. Before that success, however, Woods trudged through a youth that saw him teased for his stutter. Worse still, he says he was a frequent victim of racial slurs. Say what you will about his recent actions, but the massive success he’s achieved as a pro has almost certainly silenced his childhood tormentors.
3 Wayne Gretzky
Aptly bestowed with the moniker “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky is the consensus best hockey player ever. Over the course of his career, which saw him play for the Edmonton Oilers, the LA Kings, the St Louis Blues, and the New York Rangers, Gretzky amassed several 200-plus point seasons, and at one point, 13 consecutive seasons where he charged well past 100 points. When he was on the ice, he was a different animal. Before his legendary NHL career, however, Gretzky was a small kid who, like so many others, dealt with frequent bullying. As a young player, he was frequently picked on for his size, age, and ability in a way that he hasn’t forgotten to this day.
2 Georges St-Pierre
Georges St-Pierre is the greatest Welterweight mixed martial artist of all time (sorry Matt Hughes, but its true). With wins over the likes of BJ Penn (twice), Josh Koscheck (twice), Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit and of course, Hughes himself, “GSP” goes down as one of MMA’s best ever. Before he emerged as such, however, the Canadian dynamo was a frequent victim of childhood bullying. “[They] would pounce on and strip him,” recounts a story on GSP’s official website. “Strip him of his pants, of his lunch money, and of his dignity before a laughing chorus of boys and girls. Everybody pointing fingers except for the shadows of his few true friends – other nerds, other rejects in hiding.”
1 Mike Tyson
If the people who bullied Junior dos Santos, Ronda Rousey and Georges St-Pierre were crazy, then the people who bullied Mike Tyson were absolute lunatics. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but even the iconic heavyweight boxer once fell victim of the bullying epidemic. It was this bullying, however, that eventually led Tyson to the fight game. In an interview with New York Magazine, Tyson claimed that one time, a bully stole one of his pet pigeons. When he asked for the pigeon back, the bully ripped its head off and threw it at him. The rest, as they say, is history. The event, not surprisingly, marked Tyson's first fight, and the first of the many, many ass-kickings he would dish out as a professional boxer. The fact remains, however, that not even the most fearsome athletes on the planet were immune to the ills of bullying as children.