Monday, April 19, 2010

How do we create “men of strength” in the NFL?

Last month a 20-year-old college student accused Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, of sexually assaulting her in the bathroom of a Georgia nightclub. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell responded to the incident with a memo sent to NFL teams that reads, "The policy makes clear that NFL and club personnel must do more than simply avoid criminal behavior. We must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.”

While we support the general intent of the memo, we hope that the NFL takes concrete steps to create an environment that encourages their players to prevent violence against women.

As a national organization that works with men of all ages, Men Can Stop Rape recognizes that team sports, like football, build character and positive life skills. We take it a step further with the athletes in our programs by encouraging them to be “athletes of strength” – meaning men who treat women and other men with respect, men who have the courage to make the right choices, and men who represent themselves and their community with integrity.

Joe Ehrmann, who we honored in 2005, is a prime example of an “athlete of strength.” A former NFL defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts and subject of the New York Times bestseller Season of Life, Joe has preached his coaching mantra - “building men for others” - to various coaches and athletes around the country.

Another example of “athletes of strength” is the group of University of Maryland college football players we taught at the University of Maryland, College Park. For an entire summer, these young men learned about the stereotypes and “dominant stories” that society teaches them about masculinity and how it relates to sports and relationships. More importantly they learned how to be a better man for their team, school, and community. The end of the class culminated in a mentoring project in which the athletes role-modeled “strength” to Boys and Girls Club middle school students.

Violence against women is promoted so heavily in our society that we have to counteract it with more than one workshop or seminar. Creating “cultures free from violence” can only be done through a sustainable, long-term approach. Holistic efforts that include ongoing education programs for athletes, the institution of policies, and the implementation of public awareness campaigns, are the only way to end this epidemic and create “men of strength” within the NFL.

Patrick McGann is Men Can Stop Rape’s Director of Strategy and Planning. He can be reached at

Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR)'s mission is to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women. Named by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as one of the world’s most innovative violence prevention programs, Men Can Stop Rape has reached over 2 million youth and professionals since 1997. MCSR has worked with organizations such as the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, US Department of Health & Human Services, and various school systems and universities throughout the country. More information about our programs is available at

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