By Vanessa Parker
It was a late October day back in 2000 when Ben Cohen, English rugby star, received a phone call he’d never forget.
“It was late in the day when my phone rang,” Cohen said. “I picked up and it was my brother. He said, ‘Dad’s been hurt pretty bad.’ He’d been attacked by five guys [outside the nightclub he owned], and bitten across his face.”
On Nov. 14, 2000, Ben’s father, Peter Cohen, died from his injuries.
After his death, Ben found it difficult to regain his focus on the game he loved to play so much.
“I dealt with my aggression in the game,” Cohen said. “There was a murder trial that went on for two years. I couldn’t move on. I was not happy at home, not happy at work.”
It was finally a friend’s advice that pulled Cohen out of his depression. ”
‘Set yourself a challenge and do it for your dad,’ my friend told me,” Cohen said. “I decided to win a World Cup. It wasn’t easy, but we won a World Cup.”
Cohen was surprised when he came across a Facebook page in his honor. “It was in 2007 when I noticed one day that I had 37,000 followers on Facebook,” Cohen said. “It was all men. I didn’t ask why. I started reading their stories. That was an eye-opener. Their stories were all very similar to my own.”
In 2011, Cohen retired from playing rugby. “I’d played 600 games of world-class rugby, so I retired, deciding I needed to do something bigger — a cause,” Cohen said. “I wanted to support someone doing real world work.”
Cohen also realized he could use his status as a world-class athlete for the greater good.
“A lot of people suffered at the hands of somebody else,” Cohen said. “Though I’m not gay, we suffered something very similar. Nobody deserves to be bullied.”
This was when StandUp was created. “We used our profit, carried it over to the non-profit and from that we created grants,” Cohen said. “We have a fantastic partnership with Nike and we’re working on a project with Microsoft. We want to make bystanders ‘UpStanders.'”
The StandUp organization is a registered non-profit organization. They sell merchandise like tee-shirts, boxer-briefs and Ben Cohen calendars on their website. Those interested in donating money to the organization, or would like support for their school’s anti-bullying efforts are also able to apply to help the StandUp organization. Cohen travels all over the world to schools to share his story and to encourage people to stop bullying.
“Get help from the first door you knock on,” Cohen said. “If you are being bullied, don’t hide it. In some instances, people do the unthinkable. There are help lines and schools can help.”
Many who attended Cohen’s speaking engagement Tuesday at the Staller Center’s theater didn’t see a bullying problem here at Stony Brook University.
“I haven’t seen it myself, but I did hear a story last week about a [Stony Brook University] girl who was bullied on Facebook,” said Tiffany La Byer, a freshman physics major from Brooklyn. “She confronted and educated her bullies. She shows individual power. We can live equally.”
Leanne Zinn is a junior psychology major from Massapequa who transferred from SUNY Farmingdale and is a member of Stony Brook’s StandUp chapter.
“I’ve yet to see a bullying problem here. There’s so much diversity at this school,” Zinn said. “The school I used to go to was less diverse. Everyone here is so warm and welcoming, like you’re a part of something bigger. At Farmingdale, there was a profound difference.”
“We had a fantastic, fun relationship,” Cohen said. “I have no regrets. I think he can look down at all us kids and be proud. Where I am today is all due to my dad.”