We are Connor and Carmen, a student athlete and a young feminist activist with SPARK Movement, and we are fed up with hearing the stories of male athletes committing acts of violence against young women from Johannesburg, South Africa to Steubenville, Ohio. We are sick of the sports communities surrounding them blindly supporting the boys and men, seemingly terrified of disrupting their athlete-hero culture that celebrates the local “golden boys” whose behavior has no consequences and ignores the voices and experiences of the girls and women they hurt. We need to change this culture that tolerates violence. We need solutions.
As the trial in Steubenville played out before national audience, we heard about the violent and horrific experiences of a teenage girl, assaulted by local football playersduring a party weekend. We also know that one in four women and girls will be raped or assaulted by the time they turn 18. As a nation, we have a history of overlooking assault when it's committed by athletes, from the high school level to university programs to professional sports. But most athletes and coaches, like most men and most people, think sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence need to stop. Empowering coaches, who are mentors to young men, to begin difficult and complex conversations about sexual violence could create long-lasting change in communities across the nation and lead to curbing, and even ending, sexual violence. Behavior and attitudes change when important information on the topic comes from a trusted source. Students are willing (and often eager) to listen, but often only to people they respect.
We are asking the National Federation of High School Associations, which offers annual required trainings for coaches in order for them to remain accredited, to partner with nationally recognized activist organizations to develop a course on sexual violence prevention for high school coaches. Coaches must be provided with the opportunity to learn how to foster a violence-free culture among their athletes in the locker room, on the playing fields and also in school hallways and weekend parties. As local “heroes” and role models, we need athletes to lead their communities toward a rape-free climate, and we expect coaches to be prepared to initiate and foster dialogue with their athletes around issues of sexual violence that are productive and educational. The role coaches play in the lives of athletes - as role models, mentors, and thought leaders to a large portion of the youth community - is invaluable. By training coaches to understand how to address this issue with young male athletes, we can make valuable steps toward safer communities across the United States.
Support this initiative and request that the NFHS offers a violence-prevention course for high school coaches by signing on below.