A Letter From The Founder
In 2014, ESPN commentators Trent Dilfer and Yogi Roth reached out and asked me to give a talk to the top 18 high school football quarterbacks in the country, for “Elite 11,” on the importance of respecting women. There have long been challenges in our society of sexism and sexual assault. In recent years, as we've all seen time and again in the media, these issues have been especially prevalent in high school and college athletics. Trent and Yogi came to me saying that with the honor and prestige of being named an Elite 11 QB should come the great responsibility of learning to be a leader and the understanding that as their sports stardom grows and they head to play in college, it was imperative for these young men to understand how to properly treat women. At the time, both Trent and Yogi had known about some of my key work and career trajectory to-date: upon finishing graduate school at USC, I had founded a girl empowerment non-profit called I AM THAT GIRL. I had also gone on to write a book by the same name about this work and spoke on the public stage about inspiring young women to be themselves despite ever-growing societal pressures to do the opposite. I AM THAT GIRL, a movement helping girls to transform self-doubt into self-love by providing safe spaces to connect with one another, currently serves more than one million girls across the U.S. and recently opened a chapter in its 20th country. From this work, I have a deep understanding of the “girl perspective,” i.e. the thought process by which young girls are making their decisions.
I also have always been an avid sports fan and believer in the potential superpowers of student athletes. In fact, I played soccer and volleyball so I fully understand, too, the pressures put on young athletes. Trent and Yogi suggested I could take this knowledge, combine it with some of the “real talk” I’d been having with girl groups, and shift the focal point to have a similarly important conversation with their young male athletes. From many years of being exposed daily to the “guy perspective,” I also understand where they are coming from with the decisions they make: I grew up in Texas, where football is religion, with four older brothers. I tell people that my father is the best man I know, I married a professional basketball player, and I worked at ESPN and FOX Sports.
I went into that locker room with the Elite 11, my talk was filmed and aired on ESPNU, and shortly thereafter, my phone was ringing off the hook from Division I college head coaches and athletic directors who wanted to hire me to come into their own teams’ locker rooms and give their athletes the same talk they’d seen on TV. From there, ProtectHer was officially born.
Statistics show that one in five girls will be sexually assaulted during their college tenure. As a society, we have a tendency to throw around these stats with the same ease as we might toss a football. But to-date we haven’t necessarily had effective viable remedies to tackling the issue of sexual assault and student athletes, or solutions that get to the root of the issue: why are young male athletes so often at the center of sexual abuse or rape incidents? And, how do we truly change this?
ProtectHer believes that in order to safeguard dorm rooms and victory after-parties, we first need to activate the power and influence of the locker rooms. But this will not be done through traditional pep talks, sensationalist language or the didactic self-help sessions of old; rather, we aim to highlight the incredible young men who are doing the right thing (they do exist!) and to ask the athletes who are sometimes coddled, cajoled and “tempted” every day, to redefine manhood, and to do both as individual athletes and together, as a team. At the heart of our approach are the meaningful conversations I continue to have in locker rooms around the country about these issues and the rallying cry to players — alongside their coaches, athletic directors, and administrators — that offers them the heroic opportunity to learn how to better respect themselves, so that they can better respect others. We believe that these young men are not simply part of the problem, they are also the solution.
What started in that Elite 11 locker room has now turned into an ever-growing demand for me to speak to male athletic teams across the country. I was tallying up as many days on the road as most Major League Baseball teams, and it was uniquely humbling. Most importantly, this demand has led me to team up with the incredible award-winning documentary filmmaker, Sara Hirsh Bordo (also formerly Head of Digital at Paramount Pictures), along with an award-winning educational curriculum writer and team of experts in the arenas of sexual/domestic assault who have long been trailblazing this type of work. Together, we have created the first ever ProtectHer original program and companion curriculum, available for purchase by universities, colleges, and high schools – for purchase by you and your team we hope! Consider it compelling and innovative “edutainment,” education for male athletes that feels like the entertainment and sports content the guys watch on ESPN or scroll through on their phones.
ProtectHer will tackle the hard stuff: sex, consent, vulnerability, healthy relationships, accountability, authentic confidence, self respect, better respecting — and protecting — the girls and women in their lives and on their campuses. As I’ve alluded to, it will tackle manhood. And I promise you, it’s like nothing you’ve seen before.
We truly believe that it’s on all of us to better educate our young men to be the good men and role model athletes they truly want to be, and that we know they can be.