Talking Tough About Sports, Violence and Developing Young Men with Character

Coaches demand a lot of their athletes on the practice field and game day, but are they doing enough to help boys and young men become respectful adults who help others and act with integrity? That is the question at the heart of a partnership whose goal is to create more vocal leaders and mentors.

The Verizon Foundation joined with sportscaster James Brown and A Call to Men to host a series of interactive seminars this spring in Charlotte, Baltimore and Seattle to mentor and lead young men to shift social and cultural perceptions of manhood and encourage respect for all, especially the girls and women in their lives.

More than 1,000 local coaches and community leaders recently took part in the events. Current and former NFL players and coaches who took part in the Seattle event include Russell Okung (Seattle Seahawks), William Gay (Pittsburgh Steelers) and Jon Kitna (Seahawks). They discussed the challenges of delivering for a sport demanding intensity and forceful aggression on the field, then adjusting to fame, money, temptation and different rules off the field.

Coaching and teaching in high school for the first time, Kitna, a former NFL quarterback, stressed the importance of leading with consistent rules and discipline, and embracing the reality that coaches are critical role models for many whose fathers are not present at home.

One of the speakers said that the success of sports talk radio is proof that men will gladly chat about safe topics; yet it is much more difficult to address emotional subjects such as domestic violence and other unacceptable behaviors. The speakers said they hoped the session would provide attendees with the tools needed to carry the conversation back to their locker rooms and communities.