Saskatchewan Roughrider players have been spending their off-seasons teaching kids how to prevent bullying since 2009. The partnership between the Roughriders and the Canadian Red Cross started with Luc Mullinder and Weston Dressler, and has since grown to involve other former and current players like Scott McHenry, Dan Clark, Spencer Moore, Jorgen Hus, Eddie Steele, Levi Steinhauer, Nic Demski, Neal Hughes, Keith Shologan, and Chris Getzlaf.

Luc Mullinder of Saskatchewan Roughriders and Canadian Red CrossWe sat down with Luc, who is also the Manager, Corporate Partnerships for the Red Cross in Saskatchewan, to get his take on the program:

How did you get involved in the Red Cross bullying prevention program?

Weston Dressler and I were the first two players to do Imagine No Bullying Roughrider presentations back in 2009. The Red Cross trained us not only about what bullying is but also gave us techniques and resources about how to prevent bullying. Before our Red Cross training, we knew that stopping bullying was important but we didn’t know any tangible ways of doing that. For example, they taught us the difference between tattling and telling. That was huge! We had never really wrapped our heads around something like that before so it was pretty cool, and very simple. Being able to teach that to kids and give them this information that was actually helpful was a great opportunity!

My first presentation was in Carnduff, Sask., in front of about 30 kids. I didn’t have a PowerPoint or anything. It was just me talking to the kids. Weston and I did about 20 presentations that first year.
I really enjoyed it and it wasn’t about us going in there as athletes, it was about us going in there and changing people’s lives. We started running into situations where we had kids pulling us off to the side to talk and we were able to connect them with teachers and get them the help they needed. We were making an impact and it meant a lot and that is why I wanted to continue on and grow it from there. There was huge potential.

Were there any interactions with the students that stood out and stayed with you over the years?

Oh yeah, a few. In one place, this little girl comes up to tell me what was going on and she showed me some of the stuff on her phone that people were sending her and posting. She was really upset and told me that she was always a bit nervous about walking home. I ended up walking her home from school before I left and I just remember how appreciative she was. It really underlined the fact that people experiencing bullying don’t feel safe anywhere. The only time they might feel safe is when they’re at home going to sleep. That was kind of eye-opening to me.

Another situation that sticks out is the time a student’s Grandma tracked me down in public to tell me that her grandson’s father had committed suicide and that the message in my presentation at his school is what helped get him through. That’s probably the most memorable occasion. I actually got to meet the kid later and it meant a lot to me that he still wanted to say hello and tell me the impact that the presentation made. We had the opportunity to really impact people through the Red Cross.

Luc Mullinder supporting Red Cross Pink Day in schoolsWhat is your bullying story?

I got bullied a little when I was in school when we move to Canada from New Zealand. It was really cold here and my family didn’t have a lot of money so I was wearing a lot of hand-me-down clothes and I talked different. I was fortunate though, I spoke up to my parents early. I also had a of couple friends at school who had my back. A lot of kids don’t have the team behind them like I did. These kids need to be able to build a team around them that they trust and that can get them out of bad situations. There are people out there that want to help but don’t know how. That is why it is so important for us to keep reaching out and teaching people tools and techniques to help them safely help kids that are being bullied.

I also experienced being a bystander. My classmates and I stood by and watched one of our classmates get bullied, almost daily. One of my friends at the time was the main one doing the bullying and I never spoke out and told him to quit it. Nobody really did. That same student ended up committing suicide. It’ll stay with me for the rest of my life, knowing that one of us could have helped out, and avoided that entire tragedy. I could have helped save a life. I think that is why our Red Cross Pink Day theme is so important this year: Be Someone’s Hero. We know that if a bystander speaks up that bullying usually stops within 10 seconds so we want to spread that message.  

How have you seen the Rider presentations change over the years?

Well we reach a lot more kids now! We started out with a few hundred in the first year and last year we reached over 38,000 students in Saskatchewan! During the week leading up to Red Cross Pink Day, which is presented by K+S Potash Canada in Saskatchewan, we’re doing 30 presentations... in just one week! That’s crazy! It’s really awesome! It’s been great to see the business community get more involved as well. AGT Foods funds the program so we’re able to get out of the cities into more rural areas. The guys still talk to kids in the cities but the program is really available to everyone no matter where they are. We’ve even had Cameco fly a few of the guys up north in places only accessible by plane, which is pretty cool. The reason our corporate partners are so important is because we’re able to get out to communities that, sometimes, need the programs a lot more than our main cities.

You work for the Red Cross now, how did that happen?

Well, you can’t play football forever. When I retired, I started a financial practice and that was good for a while. I got to help families, which was nice, but something was missing. I really didn’t feel like I was making an impact like when I worked for the Red Cross. We’d had a bunch of goals for the Imagine No Bullying program and I didn’t feel like we’d reached them all yet. That’s what really pulled me back. There was unfinished business. There are a lot of great places doing bullying prevention advocacy, but I think the education behind the Red Cross program is what really sets it apart. It’s even approved by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education. I think they like it because we’re actually teaching kids how to safely get out of bad situations with research-based techniques that really help.

I started as a Project Manager for the Imagine No Bullying campaign and now I work with Corporate Partnerships. I enjoy helping businesses make the impact they want to make on their community. Maybe it is having their staff handing out pink shirts on Red Cross Pink Day to local kids, or even just making kids smile. It’s nice being able to help them do that. Our programs are making a difference and I love connecting businesses with ways they really want help.

In Saskatchewan, book your AGT Imagine No Bullying Roughrider presentation.

Find out more about Red Cross bullying prevention programs available across Canada.