HOPE Week ends with poignant anti-bullying message
'Stand for the Silent' founder delivers powerful speech chronicling late son
NEW YORK -- Kirk Smalley has a story to tell. It can be hard to get through it, but it's an important one nonetheless.
Smalley's son, Ty, was small for his age. He was always smiling, but he was repeatedly bullied. On May 13, 2010, he fought back. Provoked into a fight and suspended, he was left alone at his home in Perkins, Okla., when his mom had to come back into work.
Smalley read the letters he received from Ty's classmates and teachers. Everyone remembers his laugh. Everyone remembers his smile. No one could have seen it coming.
Now Smalley wants to make sure it never happens again.
He said he delivers a similar speech four or five times a day as part of "Stand for the Silent." And on Friday, he came to Yankee Stadium to tell his story to children gathered from across the tri-state area for the final day of HOPE Week.
"I'm not a public speaker," Smalley told the crowd. "I am a construction worker."
On Friday, it didn't matter. The speech he did deliver tugged at the heartstrings not only of those in attendance, but of the members of the Yankees' organization who circled the stage in front of which Smalley spoke.
On the stage were five chairs, left for the photos of five children who had been bullied to the point of suicide, including Ty. Around those chairs sat Andy Pettitte, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain, Lyle Overbay, Austin Romine, Travis Hafner, general manager Brian Cashman, general partner Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal and the professional wrestler "Big Show," each visibly moved by Smalley's message.
Chamberlain, whose jersey Smalley wore as he spoke, fought to hold back tears. Pettitte choked up when speaking about Smalley's story after the speech. One child in the front row began to cry, and Smalley personally went over to hug him.
"That happens all the time," Smalley said. "That young man had something on his heart that was bothering him."
"Stand for the Silent" came about from hearing Smalley's story. That summer, local high school students participating in the Oklahoma State University Upward Bound program began the initiative to stop bullying.
As Smalley read the letters about Ty, he turned to address Pettitte, specifically. In that moment especially, the starting pitcher had to fight to hold back he tears.
"It's tough," Pettitte said. "You try to hold the tears back. That's what it is. You see a man's pain."
With a handlebar mustache and tattoos covering his forearms, Smalley doesn't look like the typical face of anti-bullying.
He seemed almost as out of place as Big Show, who was at Yankee Stadium to represent the WWE and its strong anti-bullying efforts. He's sat through many speeches like this one, but Smalley's message in particular stood out.
"This was one of the most powerful speeches I've ever been a part of," Big Show said.
After Smalley spoke to the crowd, he talked about the experience in a hushed tone. He's grown accustomed to delivering the speech. When he gives that, though, he's bursting with emotion. His passion for the message is clear and resonates with every word he speaks.
After the speech, the child he embraced during his speech returned to Smalley. The message had gotten across, and he would do his best to spread the message.
"We get that kind of an impact from the kids everywhere we go, which tells you that bullying touches hearts and lives and ruins hearts and lives everywhere," Smalley said. "You never know when this can happen to someone you care about, someone you love. It truly can happen to anyone."
David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.