It all started with a mother desperate to help her son.
Carl Tubbs, 12, of Des Moines, Iowa, has been taking Irish dancing lessons for four years — and he's really good at it. According to ABC News, Carl spends extra time practicing during recess at school to help him get ready for competitions.
But there's one big problem. Carl's choice of hobby has made him a target for school bullies. Dancing is "for girls," they tell him, and he's often teased mercilessly.
Feeling powerless as her son was being tormented, Carl's mom, Joanne, did what any loving parent would do. She ... reached out to an NFL star on Twitter?
Recent profiles of Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins revealed a surprising aspect of his training: He, too, was a fan of the Irish jig.
The quick-moving, foot-focused dance style helps Collins stay light on his feet while avoiding crushing blows from opposing linebackers, and with Collins emerging as a top player at his position this year, his unique training style has garnered a lot of attention.
Joanne Tubbs reached out, hoping there was some way Collins could help her son.
To her surprise, Collins responded to her tweet. But that was only the beginning.
"Never stop doing the things you love because someone else doesn't agree," Collins replied. "Chase your dreams Carl and don't let them stop you from being great!"
Collins offered to meet Carl before the next Ravens game in Minnesota — which is driving distance from Carl's home — to give him some more words of encouragement.
Carl meets his NFL hero. Photo via Chad Steele/Baltimore Ravens.
Before and after the game, Collins met with the Carl, introduced him to his teammates, gave him a team-signed football, and told him to keep his head up.
In other interviews, Collins has revealed that he was also teased and bullied for his interest in dance. But not anymore.
Carl said Collins simply told him, "Just keep on moving forward and they’ll learn that picking on someone is not OK and eventually it’ll get better." He also noted that, with an NFL star in his corner, the bullies have since apologized.
We need more dudes like Collins who are willing to break down tired old ideas about what makes a man.
Not every kid who gets bullied receives a public show of support from a major sports figure. There wouldn't be enough time in the day. The best thing male role models can do is lead by their own example.
Men can be physically big and strong, or not. They can like football or dancing, or both. But the one thing they should never have to be is ashamed of being who they are and enjoying the things they do — especially when it breaks with traditional standards of masculinity.
Kudos to Collins for living the message, and for taking the time to make sure the next generation knows it's OK to just be themselves.