Before disgraced professional football player Ray Rice joined the Baltimore Ravens, he was a star running back for Rutgers University. And long before Rice was accused of assaulting his then-fiancee--now-wife--in February, he was a young athlete at a high school in New Rochelle, N.Y. Simply put, he was an impressionable boy years before he grew into a man's body with enough strength to knock his girlfriend unconscious. That's the Ray Rice that the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence wants to know more about: not the man who was indefinitely suspended by the National Football League, but the young man who could still grant respect and integrity their proper due.
"Rather than debate the NFL's decision or the individuals involved, we ... would prefer to ask the question: 'How can we raise and champion a generation of young men, including athletes, who value women and girls in their community and openly challenge all forms of abuse and violence?'" said Kelly Miller, executive director of the ICASDV.
A 2013 Idaho Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that approximately 12 percent of Idaho high-school girls and 6 percent of Idaho high-school boys report that they have been hit, slapped or physically abused on purpose by a boy- or girlfriend during the previous 12 months.
The coalition is using the Ray Rice controversy as a platform to encourage more Idaho high-school coaches and athletic directors to implement something called the "Coaching Boys Into Men" program, developed by Futures Without Violence.
"Winning games is important to every coach," reads the CBIM playbook. "However, it shouldn't be our only goal. A big part of the job is helping to develop solid, responsible athletes who are able to become upstanding citizens."
The playbook is direct and urges coaches and players to actually take a specific pledge: "I believe in treating women and girls with honor and respect. I know that violence is neither a solution nor a sign of strength. I believe that real men lead with conviction and speak out against violence against women and girls. I believe that I can be a role model to others by taking this pledge."
The Idaho coalition says the CBIM program has already begun to make its way into a number of Idaho locker rooms.
"Athletes imitate their coaches' language, attitudes and actions," said Miller. "Speaking respectfully about women and girls, motivating through positive encouragement and honoring the rules of competition embody a healthy athletic program."