Sports teams making a difference

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As fall sports gear up, we are impressed with collegiate and high school coaches tackling important issues with their players such as sexual assault, domestic/dating abuse and what it means to be a man. Open communication, awareness-building and promoting a team culture of respect will impact players, as well as their family, friends and community.

University of Georgia coach Mark Richt goes beyond telling players to treat women properly. Richt and his coaching staff hold frequent team ‘family nights’ during which they model respect toward women and other behaviors consistent with healthy relationships.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema makes use of frequent news headlines about sexual and domestic violence in sports during team meetings. Players are asked to think about what they would do in similar situations after discussing the articles in-depth. They are also challenged to assess their own coping skills on everything from an argument with their girlfriend to being on the receiving end of a racial slur. During a similar exercise, University of Nevada coach Tony Sanchez points out these stories could easily take place at their school if they allow it. He’s also clear with players about the consequences, “At the end of the day, the only thing people are going to see is that end result. What you did.”

Mike Rowe is a high school football coach in Cold Water Springs, Minnesota. He was motivated by the fact that every year 1 in 3 teens experience threats or acts or sexual or physical abuse from a dating partner. He also realizes the incredible influence coaches can have on their players. He regularly engages in conversations with players about character-building and life skills.

In a powerful team exercise, players read aloud police reports of actual domestic abuse and sexual assault incidents and then pledge, “This will not be me.” Rowe expects players to take responsibility for what happens in school hallways and at parties or dances. He explains that being a man isn’t about power, money and sexual conquests, “Your honor defines you as a man, your virtue defines you as a man and your dignity defines you as a man.”

Some of the most important goals for the Maine South Portland Red Riots basketball team are off the court. The players pledge that as men they will not be defined by the strength of their physical attributes, but by the strength of their character, attitudes, beliefs and actions. Coach Phil Conley uses the Coaching Boys into Men program as a resource to promote respectful behavior among players and help prevent relationship abuse, harassment and sexual assault.

The Red Riots work hard every day to become better athletes and team mates. They also work to take their team to the next level by modeling integrity, respect and non-violence. They abide by the mantra, “Our wins and losses may matter today, but the lives we lead as students, sons, brothers, friends and in the future as professionals, partners and fathers – these lives will transform our communities for years to come.”

It is said that whoever tells the story, defines the culture. The intentional efforts of these coaches and players will help tell the stories differently and help change the culture of violence.

To learn more about Coaching Boys into Men, contact the Women’s Resource Center of Northern Michigan at (231) 347-1572 or visit www.wrcnm.org/100-men-campaign and click on ‘resources’.