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This article was published 27/10/2015 (1748 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Reflecting on his own youth, Buck Pierce can’t remember witnessing anything major, no single incident, where he knew someone he knew had hurt a woman.
There were the little things, though. The stuff that seems normal to kids, at the time. Boys tumbling onto the playground and picking on girls. Years later, a shock of high-profile domestic violence and sexual assault cases swept the upper echleons of sport. The NFL fumbled its handling of then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who plead guilty to assaulting his now wife, and the news that followed painted a troubling picture of how the richest league in the world dealt with domestic violence exploding out from within its own ranks.
And Pierce, by then having hung up his cleats as a CFL quarterback and about to be named the running backs coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was watching.
"You hear the news, and you hear the things that are going on with sex trafficking, and those kind of issues throughout the world," Pierce said, chatting in the belly of Investors Group Field. "And it really just brings to your attention wow, this is really serious. How do we help put a stop to it?"
The Bombers think they have part of the answer. On Tuesday, the team unveiled an updated program aimed at combating violence against women, an effort that will put Bombers players on TV, in classrooms and in front of youth teams. The mission, as uttered by Pierce in one public service announcement that ran at last weekend’s home game: to encourage men to "be more than a bystander" when it comes to sexism and abuse.
Over the course of the three-year project, which is dubbed Break the Silence on Violence Against Women, the Bombers will look to hold more than 100 workshops for amateur teams, community groups and high school classes. The club has already reached out to the Winnipeg Rifles and Football Manitoba, and expects to hold the first set of events in early 2016.
At the outset, five players and Pierce will be trained to give the workshops, which have been developed in partnership with the Ending Violence Association of Canada. The province will kick in $50,000 per year to support the program, which the Bombers will match. Status of Women Canada is also on board with optional funding.
Tuesday’s announcement at IGF, overshadowed somewhat by the storm over $35.3-million in stadium repairs, has been a year in the making. In the wake of the Rice case, the CFL revised its own domestic-violence response guidelines, and sent a missive to teams asking what they planned to do.
The Bombers had previously run a 2012 PSA campaign tackling violence against women. In response to the CFL’s directive, the club’s community relations manager, Hannah Rose Pratt, began pouring herself into updating the campaign with a more interactive approach.
"It was clear to us more needed to be done," Bombers CEO Wade Miller said. "Everybody needs to be part of the solution in violence against women, but men especially need to speak up."
In some ways, the club is betting Bombers players are best positioned to do that — and for players, it may also offer a chance to change the tone, and assert a more constructive image of pro athletes than the one that takes hold in the aftermath of high-profile violence cases.
"It’s more about changing the culture," Pierce said. "The perception out there of a lot of professional athletes is that they’re high-paid guys who do what they want. That’s not the reality of it. The reality is there’s a lot of good people out there who do great things with their position in life and what they do.
"I think programs like this start to change that," he added. "You need people to speak up, and stand up, and say we’re not going to have that there."
That will start in the Bombers locker-room, too. The CFL’s new guidelines mandate that all league personnel receive training about violence against women and that is slated for training camp in 2016. It will mark the first time the club has taken a team-wide approach to tackling the topic.
"It’s a learning process," said Pratt. "Not every player will know what abusive language means. They won’t actually know what’s considered abuse... but it’s going to be made clear that this isn’t acceptable."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 2:06 PM CDT: Fixes premier's first name.
7:26 PM: Writethrough, replaces photo
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