This story originally appeared on KERA News.
With the start of school approaching, the Skyline High football team is tackling a tough subject that often grabs national headlines: domestic and dating violence.
Some players shared their own experiences when a national program called Love Is Respect was unveiled during a huddle. School leaders hope the players will be ambassadors of the program.
It’s the first day of practice. The team of more than 60 though isn’t on the field or even suited up. Players are in the cafeteria. Team captains, including senior Malik Webb, are following today’s playbook. He’s talking about an experience with his girlfriend.
”I kind of like shoved her like a little bit,” Malik says. “I’m kind of a strong guy, so she kind of like pulled a little. It was mostly just us arguing, going back and forth. I don’t know what it was in me — just something in me, just gave her a shove.”
Malik says his behavior surprised even him, and his girlfriend was shocked.
“She never saw that side of me,” Malik said. “I’m not an angry person. You’ll never see me angry or nothing. It was something she said that just clicked.”
Friends calmed him down, told him to apologize and within hours he did. It took her days to forgive him, but Malik says they’re together again.
Sharing these kinds of stories is part of Love Is Respect’s plan to thwart dating abuse. And almost everyone seems to have a story.
“I saw my mom held at gunpoint,” says Derick Roberson, Skyline’s football coach. “I saw a guy grab her by the head and hit the tank of a toilet with her head and break the tank. You know she was deaf in one ear because of the impact.”
Roberson’s mom survived multiple instances of abuse when he was little.
Love Is Respect also encourages intervention. Don’t walk away saying “it’s none of my business.” Step in.
Brian Pinero, the organization’s chief programs officer, says Love is Respect also offers tips to parents and kids about abusive behaviors.
“A lot of social media is being used to control, harass and abuse people,” Pinero explains. “When we talk with our friends, you’re like ‘Yes, my boyfriend told me I had to get rid of all guys on my Facebook page. Is that OK?’ “
No, Pinero says, not really.
“Your online self is always available to be manipulated, controlled, pushed, that’s one of the things I think this generation of young people is dealing with – how do I create a healthy boundary not just in my life but my digital life?” Pinero says.
Crayton Webb works for Mary Kay, which helps sponsor this program. He has three boys, ages 3, 5 and 7, and says now’s the time for these lessons. And as they grow up, the lessons won’t change.
“We never hit girls. Ever. Ever. A real man never hits a woman. Period.”
Webb says that’s where it starts. But toss in alcohol, drugs, or sex, and he adds it gets a lot more complicated.