Andre Tippet ,Executive Director of Community Relations for the New England Patriots, and a former player,speaks during an announcement at Central High about a Anti Violence Partnership between the team and the State. Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and student Anthony Owens and Emlie Rodriguez, rigth a para at the school look on. (Photo: Mark M. Murray / The Republican)

NFL Hall of Famer urges high school students to take stand against violence

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(Original article: Carolyn Robbins, MassLive.com, Dec. 17, 2015)

SPRINGFIELD — Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and former New England Patriots linebacker and NFL Hall of Famer Andre Tippett told Central High School students on Thursday that football players and other school athletes can help lead the way in preventing violence.

Tippet recalled growing up as the oldest of six children in East Orange, New Jersey, where a neighbor and sometimes surrogate parent would knock on his family’s door in the middle of the night after being beaten up by a boyfriend. “I heard noise in the night on the floor above us,” he said. “In the end, she ended up murdering him.”

“I was only 9 or 10,” he said, adding that the thought of the tragedy still haunts him and has inspired him to speak out against domestic and dating abuse as a professional athlete and role model, he said.

Just as a cow bell signals a herd to follow, Tippett said, student-athletes should be the “cow-bell” leader to encourage classmates to stop violence before it happens.

“As football players, you’re respected,” he said during a round-table discussion at the school with about a dozen students. “You guys have a real opportunity to lead the way … to be the someone that steps up to take a stand against domestic abuse and dating violence.”

Healey, who was a standout basketball point guard in college, said she recently met with a teenage mother who grew up in an abusive family and thought abuse was normal.

“It’s not normal,” Healey said. “All of you represent the key to making people understand that.”

Healey cited statistics showing that one in three young people has experienced physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse in a relationship.

“The fact is that you have the power to do something about this – to be the change agent,” Healey said.

Healey and Tippet visited Central to promote “Game-Change: The Patriots Anti-Violence Partnership,” a new initiative of the AG’s office and the New England Patriots aimed at providing students with the tools to combat a culture of violence that has crept into American society.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft donated $500,000 to fund the program through the team’s charitable foundation.

Central is one of 98 schools across the commonwealth that have signed on to the partnership.

During the first phase of the program, two adults from each of the schools will participate in anti-violence workshops that they will bring back to their schools to share with students.

Central teacher Jean Marvel, an adviser to the Gender Equality Club. and football coach and teacher Valdamar Brower, who hosted Thursday’s round-table, were chosen to attend training sessions run by Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, a national leader in violence prevention,

The training session, which will be held in March, is run by the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University and uses a sports-themed curriculum with collegiate athletes and former professional athletes as trainers.

After the training is completed, Marvel said she and Brower will come back and train the students in the methods of combating violence. Through the program, students will be trained to become peer leaders who can teacher younger students about healthy relationships and bystander intervention.

In the meantime, Marvel encouraged students in attendance to start speaking out if they hear about or encounter incidents of relationship abuse.

In answer to questions from Healey, Central senior Sarah Nwafor, who founded the Gender Equality Club during her sophomore year, said, “There is a widespread feeling at the school ‘that it can’t happen here,’ but it does.”

Nwafor said students need to understand that social media and the Internet can be a vehicle for bullying and abuse.

Because there is a stigma about being a victim, students are often reluctant to speak out if they’ve experienced it, she said, adding that education is needed to empower students to speak up and get help.

Sunil Darjee, 18, who came to the United States from Nepal in 2012, said students who are afraid to talk about bullying or abuse need a friend to speak up for them. “They need a friend they can trust,” Darjee said.

Healey, backed by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno and District Attorney Anthony Gulluni, encouraged the students not to be afraid to speak up.

“If you come forward, we’re going to have your backs,” Gulluni said of the role of law enforcement.

“One by one, you can make a difference,” Sarno said. “When you see the hurt in someone’s eyes who has been targeted for any kind of abuse, there are lots of caring adults who can help you.”

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