In 2013, the nation’s attention was captured by a heinous story out of Steubenville, Ohio, a small town on the West Virginia border. Two star athletes sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl at a party while bystanders looked on, took photos, and joked about it on social media. As the story developed, it was revealed that several adults in Stuebenville, including a football coach, were aware of the assault and allegedly attempted to cover it up. The story made national headlines and started a long and difficult conversation about sexual violence, masculinity, and misogyny in sports culture.
The case horrified us from top to bottom, especially the adults who had worked to cover up the crime. As SPARKteam activist Carmen wrote:
We know that Steubenville is not the first or last instance of rape within an athletic community, and although the details of what happened there have horrified us collectively, the overreaching theme of assault being covered up and excused when committed by athletes is not unfamiliar. And that needs to change.
Often, when we work through issues of rape as communities, we find that the root of the problem lies in our culture. We live in a “rape culture,” meaning we live in a world where rape is condoned, justified, excused, and even encouraged by how we socialize and teach our boys to be men and how we teach our girls to always be prepared for a seemingly inevitable assault. But we know that placing blame on survivors and victims and burdening them with the responsibility of warding off attackers or stopping their own assaults has failed and will fail again. We need boys and men to take responsibility for their part in a rape-free world, and we need to make sure that their role models and heroes are committed to making that happen.
So: we partnered with Connor Clancy, a football player and member of Mules Against Violence at Colby College in Maine. Together, Connor and Carmen–SPARK and MAV–asked the National Federation of High School Associations, the group that licenses all high school athletic coaches in the US, to create anti-violence materials for the coaches that they trained. As Connor said,
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.
Now, those resources exist. And in the process of creating them, we partnered with other organizations and found even more resources, like Futures Without Violence’s “Coaching Boys Into Men.”
This toolkit has resources for students, parents, and educators to help bring these resources to your local schools. For students, it has speech outlines and activities to start conversations about violence and consent. For parents and educators, it has guidelines and talking points for gathering support in your local communities.