Former athletes are taking leadership positions in efforts to stop sexual assault among college athletes.
In August, following a string of high-profile sexual assault cases in universities, the NCAA mandated that every athlete, coach, athletic administrator complete a sexual assault program annually.
The goal of these programs is to help teach student-athletes how to act appropriately and to encourage them to become a helping hand when they see or are even a part of a sexual assault or domestic violence situation.
“Branded a Leader” and “Huddle Up” are two programs used by many colleges campuses to educate student-athletes about sexual assault and the impacts it can have on students, the university and teammates. The programs were developed by National Consortium for Academics and Sports. “Huddle Up” and “Branded A Leader” go out to universities and professional teams to educate the athletes and create positive change in leadership and issues of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“Our organization as a whole focuses on a range of different social justice issues and what we decided to do with ‘Huddle Up’ and certainly ‘Branded a Leader’ was look at sexism broadly and then focusing on all the ways it manifest itself,” said Jeffery O’Brien, vice president of the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.
O’Brien said his organization tried to make a complicated issue into something that could be easily dealt with in small conversations among athletes. The goal was to make the issue something athletes would be interested in learning about, and also make a personal connection with the issue so they would do something about it in their lives.
“Huddle Up” and “Branded a Leader” are focused on sports culture. The organization finds former athletes to lead the programs.
Jacqui Schuman is a consultant for the consortium works on the “Huddle Up” and “Branded a Leader” programs. She was a track and cross country runner at Vanderbilt during the the late 1990s.
Sexual assault wasn’t talked about much to athletes during her time at Vanderbilt, she said. Instead, issues surrounding sexual assault too often were swept under the rug so that the public hear about issues with athletes.
“I think that the fact that we’re talking about this a lot is overwhelming to people, but I think it is a really good thing because this stuff was happening for so long and nobody was talking about it,” Schuman said.
Schuman took an interest in sexual assault in a graduate school class in 2001, when she chose sexual assault, domestic violence and rape cases involving athletes as a research project..
“When I did the research, most of the cases were thrown out,” she said. “There were rarely any cases that ever went to trial or even became that public. But it still was a time in 2000 to 2002 where cases weren’t brought to light.”
She eventually became a trainer and helps develop curriculum for training programs.
“Just through my work with the consortium I started working with ‘Branded a Leader,’ which has been really important to us as well and especially at Michigan State where every year we do an orientation talking about all these issues with the athletes,” she said.