#HealthyManhood On and Off the Field

By Ted Bunch, Chief Development Officer, A CALL TO MEN

I often have the great privilege of talking about healthy manhood with young men in colleges and universities across the country — and the conversations I have with them are always eye-opening.

This summer, I visited several sports teams at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, for a training focused on the Man Box, men’s mental health, and steps we can all take to make sure all women and girls are valued and safe. The training was part of our partnership with Harry’s to reach more than 5,000 college athletes with a message about healthy manhood and men’s mental health. PBS NewsHour was there with us, and their feature on our work aired yesterday. Take a look below:

We chose to focus on young athletes for a few reasons. First, college-level athletes are part of one of the most hyper-masculine subcultures in our society. The Man Box dominates. It polices men, demanding adherence to its teachings and condemning anyone who falls short. This indoctrination leaves athletes at an increased risk for mental health issues. The stigma around asking for help is also amplified in this subculture. Because stigma pressures players into hiding their struggles, many turn to alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. Additionally, violence can stem from the emotional suppression. 

Second, college athletes have — and will continue to have, even after their playing days are over — a platform and tremendous influence to spur positive social change. They are leaders on and off the field. They have the ability to set the tone, to validate or invalidate, to create culture, and to make an impact. 

Third, we’re reaching them at a key moment in their lives. Our conversation is often the first time that those concepts start to crystallize, and these young men have the opportunity to safely explore what their socialization has taught them about manhood, women, and girls. They unpack how the Man Box has affected them, how they feel limited by the rigid rules of manhood, and they start to understand the impact on their physical and mental health and their relationships. I have been doing this work for 20 years, and I see transformation 100 percent of the time. 

It’s important work that we are honored to do in partnership with coaches, athletic directors, Title IX directors, NCAA coordinators, and those who work in player engagement. To all the dedicated people working in and around college athletics, you have an opportunity to build an athletic program that can serve your boys well beyond their time on the field. Here are some strategies that will make an immediate impact on your team but will benefit them for a lifetime.  

  1. Create a team culture that values healthy manhood. Help your players think critically about how they have been socialized to view manhood, women, and girls. Provide meaningful, engaging education and create opportunities to routinely talk about mental health issues. This will remove the stigma that many men and boys experience and empower them to ask for help when needed.

  2. Commit to foster your players’ emotional intelligence. Emotions are strongly correlated with performance and productivity. Players who feel emotionally supported will be happier and more productive. They also work harder and more effectively to be successful. These traits extend beyond the ball field to their academic endeavors and, later on, to their professional lives.

  3. Talk with your players about their influence and platform. Help them channel their influence into something that’s meaningful for them and society. Identify issues that are important to your team and offer related service opportunities. Encourage their interest and investment in social justice issues.

  4. Organize and celebrate concrete actions. Encourage your players to act when given the opportunity to prevent gender-based violence, harassment, or discrimination. Go as a team to cheer on the women’s basketball team or commit to attend an event hosted by the campus women’s center.

For this massive culture shift to happen, it will take thousands of us organizing in our communities and working together to promote healthy manhood. Will you make a donation today to help us reach more young men in the 2019-2020 school year?