For an hour inside the Westerville Central gymnasium Wednesday night, about 100 teen boys grew up in a hurry.
The young athletes, most of them from Central’s football and soccer teams and a handful from Bexley football, entered the gym not knowing exactly what to expect, other than “some woman” was going to talk to them about “something serious.”
The “some woman” is Brenda Tracy, a 44-year-old from Portland, Oregon, who travels the country speaking mostly to groups of high school and college male athletes — she addressed the Ohio State football and men’s and women’s basketball teams Tuesday — trying to convince them that they are the solution, not the problem. Focus on the fix instead of the failure. Brava, Brenda.
The “something serious” was sexual assault. In graphic detail, Tracy shared how in 1998, as a 24-year-old living in Oregon, she was raped by two Oregon State football players and two of their friends.
As she spoke, the young crowd listened silently. This was not a funny photo on Instagram or video game to be mastered. This was a woman telling them about the worst day of her life, and how they are the only ones who can keep the same thing from happening to other women.
“If women could put a stop to sexual assault, it would have happened already,” said Tracy, who was invited to Central by Warhawks assistant football coach Kevin Loadman. “You think the 10 percent of all men who commit sexual assault are going to stop it? No, it’s up to you, the 90 percent of you who do the right thing.”
The 90-10 ratio is at the core of Tracy’s “Set the Expectation” nonprofit organization that encourages male athletes to use their influence as leaders to speak out against sexual assault.
Instead of making good guys feel bad because of their gender, Tracy challenges the majority to hold the minority of miscreants accountable.
“I’m tired of men being talked about as bad,” she said. “You are the future … but saying nothing is still saying something. You need to stand up, because when you do, you give permission to the next man to stand, too.”
Dontray Hunter, a senior defensive end at Westerville Central who is committed to play at Purdue, was so inspired by Tracy’s testimony that he was ready to spread the message before even leaving the gym.
“I loved it. I want to help, whatever I can do, I will,” he said.
The same goes for Phillip Martin, a sophomore tackle at Bexley.
“We (as men) need to make changes so that things like this don’t happen anymore,” he said, referencing Tracy’s rape. “We need high school athletes to speak out and not be quiet on these kinds of things.”
That attitude is exactly why Tracy wants to increasingly target male high school audiences.
“When you look at the crisis in college, where one of every five women are sexually assaulted, you have to address the issue before college,” she said. “It’s unfair to give an 18-year-old to a college coach and expect him to deprogram and then reprogram him, and then hope he doesn’t do anything wrong. We need to get to our high school athletes at the beginning of the pipeline.”
The message is getting through, according to Tracy, who said male athletes sometimes get emotional while meeting with her after the talks. And mothers often contact her on social media to say they just had a heart-to-heart with their sons about the fallout from sexual assault.
Tracy’s 90-10 message is important. And timely. With so much bad male sexual behavior being reported these days, including in sports, it’s up to the good guys to police the bad ones.