NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Sports executives, coaches and athletes from around Middle Tennessee, including Titans TE Delanie Walker, convened Thursday at Montgomery Bell Academy for the YWCA's "A Call to Coaches" seminar to increase respect for women and girls and reduce instances of violence against them.
"A CALL TO MEN" co-founder Tony Porter was the featured guest speaker, with the goal of enabling coaches and mentors from across the area to help the young men they work with learn to treat ladies with honor and respect. Porter presented a program about the "Man Box" detailing how the collective socialization of manhood — "no fear, no pain, no weakness" and thinking that one must "man up" — can have negative effects on males' attitudes toward and treatment of females.
Titans TE Delanie Walker joined athletes, coaches and sports leaders for the YWCA's first "A Call to Coaches" event. (Photos: YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee; Craig Peters, Titans Online)
Porter and other guests described the positive impacts that coaches had on their lives, encouraging other coaches to disrupt a "cycle of consequences" he's found in many domestic violence cases. The cycle starts with the idea of avoiding vulnerability, goes to a lack of achievement, to low self-worth, to stagnation, to trauma, to the criminal justice system. He said too many are stuck with the inability to ask for help as the severity of those stages increase, but coaches and mentors can provide the positive influence.
"This is a game changer for our community," YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee Executive Director Pat Shea said. "We're grateful that these athletic leaders realize how important they are to this conversation. It's critical that they see this as a different conversation, one that is not reprimanding or indicting, but one where we are focused on raising good men and helping our boys so they don't get into trouble in the first place."
Porter led a discussion with Walker, former Middle Tennessee football coach and CEO of Backfield in Motion James "Boots" Donnelly, Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason and Austin Peay basketball coach Dave Loos and a separate talk with Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director David Williams.
Walker, who has played football since he was 8, said his coach in junior midgets at age 12 provided the most significant mentorship during his youth. Walker said the coach had a son on the team but treated every player as his son.
Porter implemented the quote: "It's how you live when nobody's calling the plays that really counts," that was used during the 2013 NFL rookie symposium in his presentation, and Walker said those are words he lives by. Walker said the biggest challenge young people face is what to do when they think no one is watching and said effective communication with young people will be a key to making strides.
Mason built off that, stressing the importance of intentional communication, where coaches make sure they get to know their players and let them know that they're personally invested in them beyond the field of play.
TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress, former Titans/Oilers receiver and MBA athletic department liaison Chris Sanders and retired judge/YWCA board member Peter Macdonald also spoke as Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com and 104.5-FM The Zone served as emcee.
Sanders shared a personal anecdote about walking in as a female family member was suffering an act of domestic violence and telling the assailant that he didn't know how to treat women, and the assailant replied, "Nobody ever taught me."
Participants said there's no excuse to not improve a pair of troubling statistics: Tennessee had the sixth highest rate of women killed by men in a national report by the Violence Policy Center based on data from 2011; and Metro Nashville police responded to more than 26,000 calls related to domestic violence in 2013.
Williams said men of character have an obligation to right those wrongs and a job of changing those stats by teaching young men what is right.
Childress encouraged attendees to seize the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young men, doing so with consistent exemplary behavior. He said young men must first develop self-respect before they can better respect and appreciate others.
Rayna Stewart, a 1996 draft pick of the Houston Oilers whose two seasons with the franchise spanned its move to Tennessee and later was defensive quality control coach (2009-10) for the Titans, attended the seminar as coach of Whites Creek High School. Stewart believes he and other attendees received tools that can help them build the character of young men.
"I think it's a great body of information. To give young men tools is probably the most important thing that comes out of this," Stewart said. "It's one thing to recognize and point it out, but it's something else to have tools to give to young men. As the introduction occurs and brings it to the forefront of our minds, the next stage for us as coaches is to look at the tools and things we have in order to give them to address and deal with the issues of domestic violence and how to interact with and treat women.
"The first step is pausing and calling out the jokes when you hear them, because young men, more than anything else, won't directly talk bad about women," Stewart added. "It's all in the context of talking about something else that females come up, so I think the important thing for us as coaches and for those of us in charge, is when we hear those things, one, to call them out and then discuss from there, and then, having the tools, having the things that we have that are intentional in laying out the ideas of, 'OK, this week or this time, we're going to address how do we relate to women, period, be it our mom, our sister, our girlfriend, be it somebody that we see walking down the street? How do we relate to women and what is the framework we have that establishes how we relate to them?' Those are important things to address and look at, but it starts with interrupting the flow of conversation that has an easy ability to be disrespectful." Porter closed the seminar with a call to action, saying, "It's time to stand up and speak out. We're part of the solution or part of the problem. Find your voice and know it counts."