KNOXVILLE — First-year coach Jeremy Pruitt has plenty of work to do to get Tennessee back on track within the SEC, but that doesn’t mean he is sticking to football during fall camp.

Pruitt this week invited ESPNU radio personality Rachel Baribeau to speak to the team about how to treat women. Baribeau has spoken to more than 25 college football teams as part of her #ChangingTheNarrative Campaign that focuses on four core aspects.

Her points of emphasis include urging the players to take back the headlines of college football and to use their platform to make a difference.

During each speech she shares her own story in which she was the victim of domestic violence.

College coaches have made a habit of inviting women like Baribeau and sexual assault survivor Brenda Tracy to speak to their teams in an attempt to raise awareness about the problematic trends plaguing the sport.

The subject hit home at Tennessee last month when linebacker Ryan Thaxton was kicked off the team following his arrest on charges of false imprisonment and domestic assault of his girlfriend.

Days before Thaxton was kicked off the team, Pruitt told reporters at SEC Media Days in Atlanta that he would not ‘condone’ or ‘tolerate’ violence against women.

Baribeau’s visit with Tennessee was part of a series of monthly meetings players and staff go through that discuss drugs, alcohol and how to treat women. During the summer, they took a wellness class once a week.

“That’s important to us,” Pruitt said Thursday. “It’s important to our society. I know Rachel. She spoke at a place I was at before, and I think she does a really good job.”

Baribeau’s speeches are welcome because there seems to be yearly and sometimes even monthly instances in which college football players make headlines for the wrong reasons.

In 2014, Oklahoma suspended running back Joe Mixon for the season after he punched a woman and fractured four bones in her face.

In 2015, Florida State dismissed quarterback De’Andre Johnson after he punched a woman at a bar.

In 2016, Baylor fired coach Art Briles amid the controversy over the school’s mishandling of rape allegations involving football players.

Last week, Ohio State placed coach Urban Meyer on administrative leave after a report alleged that he knew about domestic violence allegations against an assistant coach but allowed him to remain on the staff.

The list of other incidents is extensive.

Vol linebacker Darrell Taylor said Baribeau’s speech showed the players how to be more respectful toward women, how to stand up for them and how to take care of them on a daily basis.

Long snapper Riley Lovingood said one of the highlights from Baribeau’s speech to the Vols was that it is important to consider how one person’s actions can affect the team.

That likely didn’t happen with Mixon, with Johnson or at Baylor. Though the Tennessee players see what happens throughout the country, Lovingood said all they can do is focus on what happens within their team.

“If I keep my brother next to me accountable, and we’re all doing that across the line, then we shouldn’t have any worries with that,” Lovingood said. “That’s the culture we’re creating here with coach Pruitt.”

By Corey Roepken

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