How can athletes create safer spaces?

Whether you’re an all-star in your rec or school league, a professional athlete, or somewhere in-between, you know that sports teach us the value of hard work, grit, and cooperation. In addition to sharpening our reflexes and overall physical fitness, sports give athletes a sense of community. From the locker room to the playing field and everywhere in between, here are some ways you can use your position as an athlete to create safer spaces!

hit the gas on continuous learning

As you prepare for a winning season, consider training on how you can contribute to violence prevention.  Sports are an opportunity for you to demonstrate leadership. Setting a positive example for your teammates, fans, and community is important.  Here are some ‘training tips’ to help you and your teammates learn more:

  • NJCASA’s fact sheet on sexual violence can provide an overview and general statistics to share;
  • PreventConnect’s “Athletes As Leaders” webinar explores how sport can empower specifically female athletes to act as leaders in creating healthier, safer environments;
  • Men Can Stop Rape’s “Athletes As Men of Strength” fact sheet explores specifically male athletes as bystanders and role models in the locker room;
  • Athlete Ally works to educate student-athletes on LGBTQ+ allyship and creating safe environments for every teammate.

model positive behavior

Be the MVP both on and off the field by modelling positive behavior. Your actions can create a ripple effect of positivity within your team. Courage is more than lining up to take a game-winning shot. It’s also standing up to your peers and friends when you hear degrading language. “Hit the brakes” and address victim-blaming comments (“Did you see how she was dressed, she was asking for it!”) or misogynistic language (“Bros before hoes!”). Speak up if you hear your peers using sexist and/or racist language in locker rooms or on the field or court.

NJCASA’s blog on victim-blaming addresses some strategies for tackling this kind of language. We also like this packet about engaging bystanders and this guide for young activists, both from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC).

provide support if someone discloses to you

Words are powerful and can convey a sense of support. If someone on your team shares that they have experienced sexual violence, responses like, “I believe you,” and “It’s not your fault,” reinforce that trust. It can be difficult if the person disclosing shares that the person causing harm is a fellow teammate or member of the coaching staff. It can be hard to hear about people we know and trust harming others. But this is an opportunity to reaffirm that your team doesn’t stand for harming others – and you can model the behavior you’d expect from a fellow teammate.

You can ask the person disclosing if they want to be connected to resources that can help. Familiarize yourself now with mandatory reporting laws, so you’re prepared if someone under 18 discloses to you.

join or form an organization

There is no offseason for stopping violence. If you are part of a school or college sports team, then explore collaborating with existing organizations on campus that work to educate around sexual violence. Sharing space with like-minded people can help strengthen your connections and your ability to speak out against rape culture. Organizations in schools or on campuses can work with a supportive faculty member to host important events about sexual violence prevention. We like this event planning guide from the NSVRC.

Part of an adult rec league or workplace team? Your county has a sexual violence program that can offer this support! Find them here.

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This publication was made possible via a grant from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ Division on Women. Its content are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Children and Families’ Division on Women.