A CALL TO MEN National Conference: Advancing Sports Culture to Prevent Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Thursday, 10 September 2015 to Friday, 11 September 2015
Charlotte, NC

From September 10 – 11, more than 400 people from across the country gathered for A CALL TO MEN’s national conference: Advancing Sports Culture to Prevent Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Joyful Heart was proud to be one of the national non-profit conference partners. We also hosted a roundtable discussion about the collaboration between Joyful Heart, NO MORE, Viacom and players from the NFL. This joint effort yielded Joyful Heart’s NFL Players Say NO MORE PSA campaign, which reached tens of millions of football fans throughout the 2014 – 2015 season.


Held in Charlotte, North Carolina, the conference kicked off on September 10. It featured voices of women and men from across the U.S., representing the survivor community, advocates working to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault, members of the sports community, educational sector and more. Often, the speakers referenced the exponential increase in awareness that these issues received this past year, following the release of the Ray Rice video and the widespread, sustained attention on domestic violence and sexual assault. Many expressed what we too are feeling at Joyful Heart: we are in a moment when attention to and engagement around these issues has never been higher. It’s a dialogue that has been long overdue. Now what?

The conference was an opportunity to explore answers to that question by examining the intersections of our shared vision for an end to violence with sports culture. Sports, after all, is “the biggest men’s club in America,” as A CALL TO MEN co-founder Tony Porter stated. And while it is one that can perpetuate violence against women and girls, it’s also an incredibly important vehicle to change social norms.

Joyful Heart’s plenary discussion during the conference focused on using public service campaigns to prevent violence against women and girls. Maile Zambuto, CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation, introduced Joyful Heart’s work and vision to attendees and spoke about Joyful Heart’s role in NO MORE. She recalled last fall—almost a year ago—when the first NO MORE PSA aired during an NFL game and we began to hear from current and former NFL players, asking to be involved. She said:

"Players traveled from cities across the country to make their voices heard. Their reasons? I had to be there. I’m doing it in memory of my mother, to keep her voice alive. I’m doing it for my children. I grew up in a violent home, so I’m doing it for me. It’s the right thing to do. It’s time."

Joyful Heart’s NO MORE PSA campaign—first the original spots, then the NFL Players Say NO MORE campaign, then the “Speechless” campaign—aired every week until the end of playoffs, reaching 16 .6 million fans each week.

Maile then welcomed a panel to the stage. It included:

  • Jane Randel, co-founder of NO MORE, who spoke about the genesis of NO MORE and how organizations can utilize the symbol to advance their work
  • Neils Schuurmans, Executive Vice President of Viacom Velocity Creative, who spoke about Viacom’s commitment to these issues and role in the campaign – leveraging its talent to participate, airing the PSAs and producing the NFL player campaign
  • Dwight Hollier, Vice President of Wellness and Clinical Services with the NFL and participant in the NFL Players Say NO MORE PSA campaign, who spoke about the players’ perspectives on why they wanted to get involved, their reactions to the content and why it was important to the players to participate
  • Lendon Ebbels, Content & Communications Manager of the Joyful Heart Foundation, who spoke about the social media and media campaign that accompanied the PSAs

Each person spoke to an aspect of the campaign, and together, they told a powerful story about the impact of Joyful Heart's NFL Players Says NO MORE campaign. As Maile said:

"For so long conversations about these issues have been taking place on the margins - and now - we all are bringing this conversation right to the heart and center of American culture—right where the conversation belongs."

The conference featured many speakers over the two days, each bringing wisdom, insight and ideas. Dr. Corrine Sanchez, Executive Director of Tewa Women United, spoke about the lasting legacy of intergenerational trauma and oppression experienced by her indigenous community in New Mexico. She brought more than a dozen volunteers on stage, each with a bag of stones—representing violence and trauma—that have been passed down from generation to generation. Throughout, she spoke to her own experience as a survivor and what men could have done differently. 

Troy Vincent, Vice President of Operations at the NFL and former pro football player, spoke about his own experience growing up with domestic violence in the home. He told the audience about the 911 dispatcher who knew his name, simply because he called so much, and he spoke to the reason he became involved in sports, which served as an outlet and a place where teammates and coaches cared about him, as it can for so many young men. He called on us to remember “the power of one.” That a single person can be the one to make a difference in a young person’s life—whether they are a coach, a teammate or a friend. "Everyone is a bystander,” he said. “Everyone is a first-responder."

Ulester Douglas, Executive Director of Men Stopping Violence, facilitated a discussion on the most current thinking of women of color advocates in ending violence. Panelists included Lina Juarbe Botella, Training Director of A CALL TO MEN, Tonya Lovelace-Davis, CEO of Women of Color Network, Nicole Matthews, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition, Mildred Muhammad, author and speaker, and Beckie Masaki, Co-Director of the API Institute on Domestic Violence. Tonya pointed to the statistics that women of color are disproportionally affected by violence and abuse, and face some of the highest barriers to receiving services. And as Lina said, “For the women of color on the margins of the margins, we need to bring them into the middle.”

Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL player, speaker, activist, coach and founder of Coach for America, was presented with a lifetime achievement award at the conference. Joe has been instrumental in the efforts to transform the culture of sports. That evening also featured a screening of The Mask You Live In, a documentary that tells the stories of boys and young men struggling with society’s narrow definition of masculinity as they are pressured from all corners to disconnect from their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence. The film is currently available for screenings, and Joyful Heart looks forward to hosting two screenings of the film in Hawai‘i next month. To find out how you can host your own screening, click here. For more information on Joyful Heart’s screenings in Hawai‘i, email us at hawaii@joyfulheartfoundation.org

Throughout the conference, breakout sessions focused on more specific aspects of the intersections of violence against women and sports culture. Topics ranged from hip-hop culture’s impact on sports, to faith and spirituality, to fatherhood and fatherlessness, to heterosexism in sports and much more. 

As Lina Juarbe Botella said, "We have to expand and augment and engage in different thinking to end violence against women." This conference was a time to do just that, and to imbue participants with a deeper understanding of the ways in which we must all come together to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault. We were honored, humbled and grateful to be a part of it.

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