Before heading to the practice field, Westinghouse High School football players met in a classroom, where Coach Monte Robinson read questions from a notecard about alcohol and sexual violence. He told them to be honest.
“Of course you’re not supposed to be drinking or doing drugs, right?” he said. “But we don’t live up under a rock and we’re not going to sit here and give you a Sesame Street spiel. I know what’s going on.”
The players answered with a collective, “coach.” It’s something they’ve started doing on their own to let Robinson know they hear him. It’s obvious the players trust Robinson and the rest of the coaching staff. It’s something he said the coaches have worked hard to gain.
The players open up and freely talk about sex, drugs and alcohol with the coaches. Because of that trust, Robinson said he wanted a more structured approach to developing players off the field.
This season, the football team used the “Coaching Boys Into Men” program. It’s a curriculum that gives coaches the resources to talk to players about sexual violence and promote healthy relationships.
Robert Morris University uses the program in all of its athletic programs. Westinghouse is the first Pittsburgh Public school to use it. The curriculum comes with a set of cards printed with scenarios that coaches and players work through together.
In the classroom, Robinson described a hypothetical party with drugs and alcohol. He asked the group what they would do if they saw a teammate at a party pulling aside an intoxicated female.
One player said he’d tell that teammate to rethink what he’s doing. He used language the team learned earlier in the fall from a presentation from Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, or PAAR, saying “no means no and yes means yes.”
Robinson agreed with the player, driving home the point that if someone doesn’t have the ability to say yes or no, he should encourage his teammate to walk away.
Robinson said coaches don’t often talk to their players about safe sex or consent until it’s too late.
“Someone’s pregnant, someone’s in trouble,” he said. “There’s no preventative work going on because people are just not comfortable talking about it. And a lot of times it’s the adult that’s not comfortable.”
The idea of consent has come up in almost every session, Robinson said. Counselors with PAAR led a session this fall with the football players about mutual respect and the legalities of consent.
Allison Hall, executive director of PAAR, said many students, even those in college, are confused about consent. She said adults should start talking to kids about consent as early as middle school.
“Kids are inundated with a lot of unhealthy information about what relationships should be,” she said. “Once you develop the norm that most high school students don’t think it’s OK to sexually harass a girl or disrespect a girl or think that it’s ok to have sex with someone who’s passed out. It’s empowering to those students to know that most of their classmates think the way they do and will stand up and intervene.”
In football, Robinson coaches aggression. The problem, he said, is teaching kids how to turn that off when they’re not on the field.
“What happens across the board – and you see it in professional athletes, college athletes and high school athletes – they are overly-aggressive with females,” he said.
By giving players a place to speak freely without repercussion, Robinson said he hopes his athletes will understand they can’t be aggressive to get what they want.
Now, in the off-season, Robinson is working to bring the program to other athletic teams at Westinghouse. Eventually he wants to expand it to other public school programs in the city. His goal, he said, is to get coaches comfortable talking about what he calls the “tough stuff.”