BY Art Thiel 06:40PM 10/03/2014

Thiel: Wilson, schoolyard punk, pursues change

Seahawks QB elaborates on his bullying ways before finding faith, and on his “Pass the Peace” viral campaign to raise money for victims of domestic violence.

Russell Wilson, celebrating the Seahawks come from behind playoff win in Washington in January 2013, is drawing attention of another kind. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

For many, it is hard to imagine a younger Russell Wilson knocking the teeth out of smaller kids in the schoolyard, slamming heads against walls, generally being the stereotypical asshole jock.

“I was a bad kid,” the Seahawks quarterback said Friday at team headquarters, beginning a fascinating 10-minute disclosure about his childhood that he has never shared publicly. “I thought I owned the playground. I thought I owned the classroom. I thought I was bigger than who I was. I thought I would never get in trouble for anything. I thought that was the way to go. I thought that was being a man.”

Hard as that was to imagine, it is just as hard for many to imagine striking a spouse in the fashion of Ray Rice.

So Wilson would like to heighten awareness by, it would appear, getting help for the surprised, defenseless victims of domestic violence and bringing them from the margins to the middle of a long-overdue cultural discussion of beating loved ones, and strangers, because violence can be done as easily as it can be ignored.

Wilson opened a foundation Tuesday, planning to name it after himself until he recalled a bit of Scripture — “He must increase, but I must decrease” — and switched it to a bromide his father said to him repeatedly: “Why not you?”

During the bye week, he flew to California and was listening to “Man in the Mirror,” a a No. 1 hit in 1988 by one of his musical heroes, Michael Jackson  (“If you wanna make the world a better place / take a look at yourself / and then make a change”).

“I was thinking about all the things with domestic violence,” he said. “I knew that the idea of ‘Pass the Peace’ would be a great idea.”

The Why Not You Foundation’s first cause became the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, the only national direct-services provider that serves domestic violence victims, survivors, their families and friends and abusers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The “Pass the Peace” slogan was put to video and upon the sweatshirt he wore to his weekly press conference. The idea was to create a viral meme akin to the “Ice Bucket Challenge” that raised millions of dollars for the fight against ALS. In the video, Wilson challenged retired Yankees star Derek Jeter and pop star Justin Timberlake to “Pass the Peace.” He plans to challenge others daily.

“I was thinking, ‘OK, I play quarterback, how ‘bout I pass the ball to somebody,’ then I thought about peace and what that means, and I came up with ‘Pass the Peace,” he said.  “It’s been a great initiative so far.”

Jeter is the founding publisher of “Players’ Tribune,” a digital platform for first-person stories by athletes that he launched in New York this week, which featured an essay by Wilson talking about his adolescence as a bully that garnered national attention. Wilson was named a senior editor and said he will continue to write for the site.

Wilson knew his ambitious agenda would draw speculation about his focus on football, with the Seahawks on the Monday night game against the Redskins in Washington.

“My focus is on football — playing great football and trying to win games,” he said. “I do want to be an entrepreneur. I do want to be able to do different things. I’m not just about football. I think I have the power to influence and help others and encourage others, that’s part of it too.”

Wilson said an acceptance of Christianity at 14 was the turning point in his life: “I got saved and I kind of changed my life big-time. I used to always go to church to see the cute girls and now I go to church to work on my heart.”

Asked whether he apologized to those he bullied, he offered his only mis-speak of the day.

“I haven’t seen any of them. They’ve gone missing, for whatever reason — not that way, not that way,” he said, smiling. “But I honestly haven’t seen any of them lately.”

Wilson’s initiative is designed at the outset to help victims. But the focus of the NFL tumult has been the nature of punishment for NFL players by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Wilson steered clear of criticizing players or Goodell.

Asked what he would say to perpetrators, Wilson said, “In my faith, I believe in forgiveness. I believe that people can change. I believe that everybody is not perfect and people make wrong decisions all the time. But the great thing about the Why Not You Foundation and the Pass the Peace initiative is the promise that no matter how good I have been or how bad I have been or what I have done, boy, girl, man or women — the whole thought process for me is “The Man in the Mirror”: How can I change?

“How can I make a difference, one person at a time. If I just try to change all of domestic violence and say ‘stop’ all at once — that’s not going to happen, right? So if we focus on the one person at a time, we have a chance . . . Hopefully, that will continue to exponentially grow, become a snowball effect, and help other people down the road.”

Big words from a reformed bully. But as Seahawks fans have seen, he has a well-developed capacity for the rally.

Reach The Hotline by either going to (where there is more information on the initiative and a link to The Hotline’s donation page) or by texting WNYPassThePeace to 41444. The text will immediately send back a link to make a donation. You can follow the Pass the Peace challenge on social media with #WNYPassThePeace, #NDVH, and @DangeRussWilson and @NDVH.

Art Thiel will be at Page 2 Books in Burien Saturday to read from and sign Sportspress Northwest’s new book, “Russell Wilson: Standing Tall.”


  • Joe Fan

    Once again, Russell raises the bar and positions himself as a leader to admire. He is an inspiration to us all. So proud of him and of Seahawk management who had the foresight to draft him on to our team and bring him into our community. Russell is a special person.

    • art thiel

      I think most athletes have a sense of social responsibility, but rarely do they engage it early in the career. Wilson will need to manage it carefully. It will take time and effort. But as he often says, no time for sleep.

  • jafabian

    Sometimes I’ve wondered if at some point Wilson is too good to be true. Will he fall off the wagon and revert to the stereotype professional jock who’s in it for themselves. And every time I wonder that he does something that douses that train of thought. When all is said and done he could very well become Seattle’s Derek Jeter.

    • art thiel

      We all share the general skepticism. Examples are many, but the most egregious was Lance Armstrong.

      Wilson seems genuine, to the point that he is revealing unflattering aspects of his past. Some will say that is part of a marketing plan to humanize him. Don’t know. But I do go by what his teammates think of him. And he has their respect.

      • jafabian

        Part of my skepticism comes from Alex Rodriguez who seemed like someone in the Jeter mold until the last year of his contract with the M’s. Other than Junior he seemed to have the respect of his teammates though Junior at least respected his ability and work ethic. Buhner is on record though for saying ARod was “full of it” though he too said ARod’s work ethic was admirable. Once he went to the Rangers steroid camp that was all she wrote. There’s no one in MLB more polarizing than Alex.

        Hopefully Russell doesn’t go down that same path, despite going to the Rangers spring training!

  • notaboomer

    um sorry but smashing people’s heads into walls and knocking people’s teeth out is not bullying. it’s assault. it’s a crime. great that wilson wants to do something good now, but let’s not just wipe away his apparent assaults because he supposedly found jesus just in time for high school football season. want to help? get jeter to donate $25M to battered women shelters.

  • notaboomer

    if russell wants to pass the peace, he should start by publicly opposing the racist name “redskins” on monday night football. come on russell, pass the peace pipe.

    • Seriously? You have no understanding, like most of your sheep-like drone movement, of the history of the name and the honorific it really is to Native American warriors. Luckily, most Native Americans do understand the history and the reason for the Redskins name. It certainly is NOT to deride or ridicule Native Americans, same as the Braves, Chiefs, Seminoles, Then you finish up with a racial stereotype to make your point of racism? If you’re trying to get a job as a village idiot, you should definitely include that comment in your portfolio.