Wiedmer: Former NFL star says 'coaches have to be held accountable'

Wiedmer: Former NFL star says 'coaches have to be held accountable'

February 16th, 2016 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Baltimore Colts defensive tackle Joe Ehrmann (76) is pictured in this Aug. 1973 file photo.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

If you go

› What: "Masculinity 2.0: Confronting stereotypes of what it means to be a man"

› When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

› Where: Redemption Point Church, Highland Park

› Cost: Free

› For more: See www.understandingboys.org/boycode

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/15/16. Defendants appear before Judge Robert Philyaw during a preliminary hearing for the Ooltewah High School basketball coaches and the school's athletic director in Hamilton County Juvenile Court on February 15, 2016. Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley with failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by his basketball teammates Dec. 22, 2015.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Inside Hamilton County Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw's courtroom Monday we once more were reminded of the overwhelming problems both our town and our country have in guiding young men to become productive, honorable adults.

Though Philyaw admitted he was torn in his decision on whether to bind two Ooltewah basketball coaches and the school's athletic director over to the grand jury for their failure to report the rape of a freshman Owls player by three of his older teammates, he ultimately chose the grand jury route.

And with that decision, perhaps the ugliest chapter in the history of secondary education in this community will continue, as it should.

But regardless of what ultimately happens to these educators or the three juveniles who now are said to have sexually assaulted four younger teammates total, we must begin to change the way we mold our boys into men.

To that end, lending an ear this Thursday night to former NFL star Joe Ehrmann's acclaimed presentation — "Masculinity 2.0: Confronting stereotypes of what it means to be a man" — might be a perfect place to start. Free to the public, Ehrmann's talk will begin at 7 p.m. at the Redemption Point Church in Highland Park.

"We've got to teach our young people that you can't let others define you," the 66-year-old former defensive lineman said Monday morning as he prepared to board a flight from Baltimore to Dallas to tape a public service announcement with the Dallas Cowboys.

"Every man in this country has to decide what he stands for, who he stands with and what he's going to stand against."

Ehrmann has stood for and against some of the biggest issues of our time both during and after his 10-year NFL career, which included a spot in the 1976 Pro Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Colts.

After watching his brother Billy lose a fight to cancer, he re-evaluated his life, then spearheaded the construction of a Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore. He and his wife Paula started Building Men and Women for Others, which addresses a range of issues from domestic violance to child advocacy. Since becoming an ordained minister in 1985 he has served as a pastor at the 4,000-member Grace Fellowship Church.

And in 2004, Jeffrey Marx — who won a Pulitzer in the 1980s for his investigative pieces for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader regarding NCAA violations within the Kentucky basketball program — wrote a book "Season of Life" about Ehrmann's work as a volunteer defensive coordinator for the all-boys Gilman School in Baltimore. It became a New York Times best seller.

A single Ehrmann quote to understand his view of coaching: "Sports don't build character unless a coach possesses character and intentionally teaches it. Sports can team with ethics and character and spirituality; virtuous coaching can integrate the body with the heart, the mind and the soul."

But Ehrmann's long crusade to change the way we define masculinity in this country actually began when he was running an inner-city ministry in Baltimore in the mid-1980s and he first came face-to-face with gang rapes and other shocking youth crimes.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 2/15/16. Judge Robert Philyaw listens to testimony during a preliminary hearing for the Ooltewah High School basketball coaches and the school's athletic director in Hamilton County Juvenile Court on February 15, 2016. Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston charged head coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and Athletic Director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley with failing to report child abuse or suspected child sexual abuse in connection with the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman by his basketball teammates Dec. 22, 2015.

Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

"I don't know that the problems have gotten worse," he said. "I think there's just more exposure because of social media. However, the stain has been around for a long time."

Now that stain has made its way to Ooltewah, and to at least three administrators whom Judge Philyaw cautiously observed, "By no indication are (these three men) terrible people."

Ehrmann said he's aware of the Ooltewah case. While not passing judgement, he noted, "Coaches have to be held accountable."

He also said of the unrealistic dream of parents and their kids to earn major college athletic scholarships on their way to a professional sports career: "We need every young person to understand that education is the goal. Ninety-seven percent of them are done playing organized sports after high school. Only one or two percent of that three percent will play a minute of pro sports. It's all a false dream for most kids except those lucky few who hit the genetic lottery."

Instead, Ehrmann would prefer a world in which we dramatically redefine masculinity. In a stunning video available on YouTube, he discusses "the three fundamental lies about what it means to be a man."

Lie No. 1, he says, is the notion that masculinity equates to athletic ability.

"From the time you first take to the playground," he said, "athletes are given more value, more worth. Being a man doesn't have anything to do with athletics."

Lie No. 2, he adds, "is associating masculinity with sexual conquest. That doesn't make you a man. It makes you a user of other human beings."

Lie No. 3, he concludes, "is associating masculinity with economic success. Too many men associate their self-worth with their net worth."

Perhaps one night inside the Redemption Point Church can't reverse all that seems to torment our young people, especially our young men.

But regardless of the reasons three Ooltewah basketball players allegedly chose to sexually assault four of their younger teammates, something else Ehrmann said Monday needs to be heard and acted on by everyone everywhere.

"The single greatest crisis in this country today," he said, "is the fake concept of masculinity."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

 

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