There’s a new kind of playbook for some of the athletic coaches in the Syracuse City School District. The district is teaming up with Vera House to pilot a program encouraging male athletes to have healthy relationships, especially with the women in their lives.
Coaches for Nottingham High School's football team, freshman basketball team and modified soccer team will be dealing with more than X’s an O’s when the season starts. They will also carry a playbook and flip cards that have topics like "Disrespecting Behavior towards Girls," and "Understanding Consent."
They’ll be expected to have one 15-minute discussion a week on these topics as part of the "Coaching Boys into Men Program."
Basketball Coach Mark LaClair expects it’ll be easy to fit in the discussions.
“It’s very easy to throw it in during a water break, to throw it in at the end, when we’re ready for the close of practice, or during the middle of the game when we are coming up against some struggles," LaClair explained. "There’s stuff in the book that you can actually use, so it’s very helpful. So I don’t have to think up something on my own. It makes things smooth, and gives you a lot of bases to touch.”
LaClair says athletes will also listen to their coaches.
“You get serious attention when it comes to wanting to be on the court and playing," LaClair said. "So it’s a perfect moment to have them look at some of these things dealing with how we treat each other and how we feel about our own self, also how we treat girls and women in our life.”
It’s important that these young men get some kind of guidance about issues involving attitudes towards women at a time when they are steeped in an athletic culture that often has stories of athletes involved with violent encounters with women.
“These kids watch SportsCenter all the time. They do see these things," said modified soccer Coach Joe Horan. "I don’t know how much sense they make out of it, but that’s the whole point of the conversation is to give them a different point of view, a different way of looking at things. To challenge that maybe their way of thinking isn’t the only way of thinking.”
Horan says learning how to become a good man can be difficult in this day and age.
“Society is teaching us a lot of confusing messages about what becoming a man is about," Horan explained. "Like, you have to become a great athlete, or you have to be very successful with the ladies, or you have to make money and have a certain kind of clothes and a certain kind of image. And I’m not sure that’s what being an authentic man is all about.”
Vera House Men's Outreach Program Coordinator George Kilpatrick expects one of the most important topics to be discussed will be about consent in a relationship.
“Look at some of the questions. we ask," Kilpatrick said. "What does it mean? What ways pressure and threats are used? How do we determine consent? What do you do if you notice someone in a dangerous or non-consensual situation? It really is trying to create what we call empowered bystanders. When you see something happening, instead of walking away, you take action."
Athletic Director Chris Hodge ultimately wants this program in all athletic programs across the district. He says this doesn’t mean there is rampant violence among athletes in the district.
“This isn’t a situation that we’re having a serious problem," Hodge said. "We’re trying to build our people up, so they can become leaders and understand that they can help other people."
And the athletes, like football captain Justin Bell, say it’s important when athletes get the message, because other students look up to them and will follow their example. But he says the most important lesson doesn't have anything to do with what's happening on the field, but what happens off of it..
"Basically how to become better men and be more respectful in life."