Now bear in mind that no one is a bigger feminist tomboy than me. Yes, I’m a walking contradiction. I have four older brothers and I founded a non-profit empowering girls all over the world called I AM THAT GIRL. That being said, I’m also a connoisseur of phenomenal men and refuse to buy into the mentality that “all men are monsters.” Last year, ESPNU asked me to give a talk to the top eighteen quarterbacks about the importance of respecting girls and women on a TV show called Elite 11. A week later, everything with Ray Rice came out. You can imagine how many head coaches called my agents asking me to come deliver the same “ProtectHer” talk. I went overnight from talking to girls to talking to dudes about the caliber of men they want to be.
So locker room after locker room, I get to sit and talk with these division one athletes about the impact the media has on them, and on how they think about girls, talk about girls, and treat girls. And get this: I thought I was put on the planet to empower girls, until I stood in a room full of guys. I quickly realized that in the midst of the all girl-power madness, these boys had been left behind. Most of them have never had a healthy conversation about sex. Around 90% of them learn about sex through porn. Can you imagine how that affects them and their thoughts about girls when given a misogynistic lens right out of the gate? Of course it impacts how they think about women and the way in which they treat us. I’m not excusing the behavior, I’m just saying I understand why some have a tendency to disrespect the females in their lives. It’s literally how they have been programmed and people would rather talk about their bad behavior than where they actually learned the behavior in the first place.
As for the FSU quarterback who popped a girl in the face. My first DISCLAIMER: under no circumstances is it EVER appropriate for a guy to hit a girl. But here’s my other disclaimer: under no circumstances is it ever appropriate for a girl to hit a guy. The bigger conversation here is, when did we as a culture start teaching people that it’s okay to use violence as a way to communicate?
It’s too easy to lump this situation into another “Ray Rice” incident. I’m bored with “another girl was hit by a male athlete and all guys are dangerous abusers.” Yes, there are men out there who hurt women. And there are women out there who hurt men. None of it is okay. So let’s use this as a teaching moment rather than an opportunity to fuel the fire of the latest “don’t hit girls” campaign.
To all the athletes out there to whom I have spoken and all those I have yet to speak to: at some point you will become a man. It’s inevitable. However, you get to decide what kind of man you are and I just want you to know the difference between a good one and all the others. After all, why do you show up to practice every day? Why do you watch film? Why do you spend all of your time memorizing plays? Why do you work your ass off in the weight room? Because when it’s game time, when the pressure is on, when it’s the last play in the game and it’s up to you to do the impossible, all the hours of practice you put in prepare you to be a real life hero. I’m just asking you to be a hero off the field and off the court too. The real question is when you lose your temper, when a chick or anyone hits you first or insults you or taunts you, do you have the guts to walk away? Do you have the self-control, the conviction to your morals, the ability to die to your ego in that moment and Just. Walk. Away?
If you need some inspiration, by all means watch the movie 42 again. Watch the scene where Jackie Robinson is being taunted by the head coach of the opposite team. Watch the magnanimity he exudes when he keeps his cool for the sake of something bigger than himself. That man had guts. He understood that in order to be great, he had to learn the ultimate lesson of self-control.
You raise a hand to a chick and it’s literally the end of your professional career. Simply for the sake of your future, don’t. Trust me, I have a whole other rant for chicks about the role they play in these situations. But this is about you. Be the guy who walks away. Be the guy who stops his teammate, who steps in and steps up. Not just because it’s your future, but because it’s the kind of man you choose to be. We need a new generation of young men who redefine manhood and it starts with each of you. Be better than that. Your job on the field is to be a badass athlete. Your job off the field is to ProtectHer, whoever she is. ProtectHer at the party, in the bar, after school, in the locker room, and in your bedroom. How you treat the girls and women in your life is a direct correlation to your own confidence; it tells the world the kind of man you are with no words at all.
ProtectHer not just because she’s a girl, but because it’s the kind of man you choose to be.