Male locker rooms are not known as the most female-friendly, aggression-free zones, nor are healthy, safe relationships the first thing we associate with college athletic culture. But a new Engaging Men grant aims to shift those perceptions in Maine, using the Black Bears to promote positive relationship patterns, and to get men speaking to other men about dating and domestic violence.
The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, a statewide activism agency, and Black Bear Sports Properties, the marketing arm of UMaine Division I athletics, are teaming up to involve men in a cause that often vilifies them. Specifically, the organizations will use a $300,000 grant from the federal Office of Violence Against Women to create a statewide media campaign (print materials, public-service announcements, and possible TV or radio spots) featuring student athletes and college coaches speaking out against abuse. Local programming to engage high school coaches — teaching them how to talk to their players about these issues — are also in the works, as are on-campus game-day events which could reach thousands of spectators, says Justin Barnes, Black Bear's general manager.
"It's a great chance to reach out to young adult male sports fans," Barnes says.
The grant, announced last week, allows the MCEDV to build on work it was already doing in schools and on college campuses. "We've always recognized the role that men can play as mentors for young men and boys, and in talking to their peers about healthy and respectful relationships," says Jill Barkley, MCEDV's public awareness and prevention coordinator. "I think student athletes are known and looked up to in their communities, and we're excited about using them as role models."
The grant is scheduled to last a year and a half; the project will launch this spring. "Sports are a major part of our culture," Barkley says. "This is a great opportunity to use sports to talk about an important social issue."