NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The numbers of women affected by abuse, sexual assault or domestic violence staggered Sean Henry, president and CEO of the Nashville Predators, the first time he heard them.
Then he talked to his wife, mother and other women in his life who told him the numbers didn’t surprise them. That shocked, and scared, him even more.
Now the Nashville Predators are launching a public service announcement to ”Unsilence the Violence” that features players like All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban and captain Mike Fisher. The franchise also pledged $500,000 over five years from its foundation to the YWCA’s MEND program designed to teach men and boys how to help end violence against women and children.
”The best part of what we do as a franchise, we get to leverage the passion our teams have for our team, our logo and turn that into something better, and I can’t think of a better cause to be behind than stopping violence against women in our community,” Henry said at a news conference Wednesday.
The Predators have supported the MEND program since soon after its inception four years ago, including hosting program sessions at the Bridgestone Arena. The Ohio Valley Conference, headquartered just south of Nashville, also has been a longtime supporter, with Tennessee State men’s basketball coach Dana Ford appearing in the new ad.
With the money from the Predators and a $200,000 commitment from the All-State Foundation, the YWCA will help fund billboards and expansion of the MEND program beyond the 10 clubs and schools in the Nashville area.
The program is run by Shan Foster, Vanderbilt’s all-time leading scorer, and works to teach boys and young men how to talk to women and to have healthier relationships. Foster said hearing those lessons from coaches, administrators and pro athletes makes the message more powerful.
Henry said violence against women is a man’s problem.
”Men need to step in and stop this,” Henry said. ”We need to turn those numbers around, and it starts with every individual.”
Sharon K. Roberson, president and CEO of the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, said one in four women will be abused in her lifetime, one in five will be sexually assaulted in college and 15.5 million children witness domestic violence each year. She also said Nashville police respond to a domestic violence call every 20 minutes.
Henry said those numbers are worsening, making it more imperative to act. The Predators official said he’s had some people tell him they won’t end violence against women.
”Even if we fall short of that goal, if we change that one in four to one in 54, the lives we’re changing we’re changing forever breaking the cycle,” Henry said.
The Predators are hosting MEND Night at their arena Thursday night during their game against Columbus to raise awareness and more money for the program, offering discounted tickets and making a donation to the YWCA.
Henry said the NHL is looking at the issue of violence against women and how to get involved. But he said he’s more focused with what the Predators are doing right now and hoping other sports franchises follow their lead. The new ad is designed to give boys role models who speak up, whether it’s a sexist joke or someone being harassed.
”We need to get our 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-old boys better examples,” Henry said. ”Examples they can say: ‘Wait a minute. P.K. Subban says this isn’t OK. He’s standing up to this. I should too.”’