Football isn’t just for the boys.
Ask Rachel Baribeau, a sportscaster and motivational speaker, who will be in Phenix City Thursday night for Gridiron Girls Kickoff Caravan, a night out for women football fans. Doors at the Idle Hour Park Community Center open at 6:30 p.m. EDT, with the program featuring Baribeau and Phil Savage, Color Analyst for Crimson Tide Sports Network to follow at 7:30 p.m.
The event, which cost $30 and tickets can be purchased at the door, features food, drinks and football. Gridiron Girls Kickoff Caravan caters to female fans.
Baribeau, now based in Nashville, will be coming back to familiar territory when she brings a preseason football event to the east Alabama.
After graduating from Auburn in 2003, Baribeau worked for Davis Broadcasting in Columbus until 2009. She had her hands in a lot of sports related jobs during that time, serving as a sideline reporter for the Columbus WarDogs, an arena football team, as well as the sports editor for Eco Latino, a Hispanic newspaper.
“I literally did everything you could do in Columbus,” Baribeau said.
Today, she has two primary focuses. She is a sportscaster for SiriusXM where she is the only female host for ESPNU SiriuXM and works on the satellite radio network’s ACC and SEC channels. In 2016, she founded Changing the Narrative, a nonprofit organization where she speaks primarily to college football teams about respecting women and being elite off the field as well as on it.
The narrative surrounding college football players that Baribeau is trying to change is a complex one. And she is going right to the source.
“The narrative right now is that college football players are nothing but a bunch of blank — fill in the blank,” Baribeau said. “In the summer of 2016 there was a black eye on college football. There was a scandal, domestic violence, sexual violence, guys getting in trouble with felonies. I remember having to back away from my shows on Sirius and cry during the breaks. I was like, ‘What’s going on in college football?’”
Since that point, Baribeau has spoken to the football teams at 34 schools, including some of the top programs in the nation. Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Texas A&M, Washington State, LSU, Clemson, Tennessee and Minnesota. Universities such as Alabama-Birmingham, Southern Illinois, Arkansas State, Buffalo and even a couple of high schools have also hired Baribeau to bring her message to their players.
“It doesn’t matter what level you are at, I will go,” she said.
It didn’t take her long to see the need for someone who looked like her and was not afraid to speak the truth about how to treat women and how to act to a college football players. She tailored a program to make her points.
“I thought about what if someone came up with a curriculum that talked about who they were away from the football field,” Baribeau said. “… I wanted to know what they were passionate about. … So many of them their identities are tied to football. So many of these young men have been told their worth is tied to how hard they can hit, how fast they can run, how tight they can throw a spiral. It’s the realities of these young men’s lives. And when they are doing playing — or playing is done with them — they are left holding the bag.”
She calls the players kings, and she stresses that they treat women like queens. The response to that message has been rewarding, Baribeau said.
“Here’s what happens at every stop,” she said. “I can make the most passionate talk — and I am not preaching to them. We are having a conversation and I start the conversation with: ‘For some of you, your life will never be the same after today. For some of you, it will go right over your head.’ They locked in from that moment.”
This summer at LSU, one of the players paid Baribeau a high compliment.
“He said, ‘The fact that you have enough guts to come in here and face all of us as a women. You didn’t appear to be nervous, you came in here,’” Baribeau said.
She has found allies in the coaches, who see her message is working. LSU Coach Ed Orgeron told Baribeau last month that on a scale of 1-10, she was a 12.
“I tell them if this talk means anything to you, come by afetrward and give me a hug and tell me,” Baribeau said. “At Tennessee, (assistant athletic director) Condredge Holloway, is a dear friend of mine and he was at the talk. He said, ‘Rachel, I was struck by the fact that you talked 55 minutes and the players, on their off night, waited 55 minutes to talk to you and how it changed their lives.’”
When Baribeau speaks to the players about domestic violence, she speaks from a place of experience.
Rachel Baribeau remembers the summer of 2016, and she wasn’t happy with the image of her favorite sport.
The Baylor football scandal, which featured multiple player arrests and involved sexual abuse and domestic violence, had embroiled all of college football. The radio host on SiriusXM’s ESPNU channel remembers breaking down in tears after one of her shows.
“It was just bad. Bad, bad, bad,” Baribeau told Sporting News as she drove to the University of Minnesota on Saturday. “I was just thinking, ‘What’s going on with this game?’ That was my impetus, and I knew that there were really good guys playing and really good coaches coaching college football. People were painting with a broad brush. I felt like the story wasn’t being told correctly.”
That’s how “Changing the Narrative” — Baribeau’s initiative that has her speak to student-athletes on issues such as domestic violence, mental health, masculinity and maximizing their platforms — was born. The initiative reached its two-year milestone Tuesday.
Baribeau has traveled to 33 schools since 2016 to speak to student-athletes. She gives every player wristbands with that mantra, and has stayed in regular contact with more than 500 student-athletes, whom she calls “kings” and “queens.”
What is a ‘king’?
“A ‘king’ is somebody who can go to sleep at night, and they know they made all the right decisions and did all he had to do in order to better everybody around him,” Minnesota junior defensive lineman Winston Delattiboudere told SN.
Delattiboudere received Baribeau’s Changing the Narrative Award on Sunday. Minnesota’s entire team voted on who it thought embodied all those traits, and Delattiboudere voted for his roommate, Antonio Shenault. Baribeau then came back in the room and honored Delattiboudere, much to his surprise.
Why did he win the award? Delattiboudere is a Baltimore native majoring in sociology of law, criminology and deviance. He has a unique viewpoint, too. He watched the riots unfold in Baltimore in 2015. He watched with teammates as protesters marched in the streets of Minneapolis after the shooting death of Philando Castile.
A few months after Minnesota players organized a team walkout ahead of the 2016 Holiday Bowl in response to 10 players being suspended in connection with a sexual assault investigation, Baribeau spoke on campus at the request of newly hired coach P.J. Fleck. Delattiboudere heard her message and used it to seek change within himself. Last summer, he visited a Boys Totem Town with teammate Thomas Barber in St. Paul, Minn. When Baribeau returned, he knew her motives were genuine.
“She talks about being more than a football player and being more than an athlete,” he said. “Growing up, just because we have this aspiration of being a football player we look at ourselves as only a football player. It’s about so much more than a game. If you carry yourself in a positive life and put in a positive direction, you’ll affect so many more lives than your own.”
Baribeau doesn’t just consider herself a broadcaster. She also considers herself an activist, and she uses her own experiences with domestic violence to help others. Her efforts aren’t one limited to one topic, however.
“This isn’t just respect, protect, cherish women,” Baribeau said. “This isn’t just what are your dreams beyond football. This is, ‘Who are you when you look at the mirror at night? Are you proud of the man that stares back at you?’ If not, let’s fix it.”
‘Changing the Narrative’ takes next step
Baribeau keeps in contact with those more than 500 players through texts and phone calls. She has those players write in journals, inspiring them with her story about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for ALS in honor of Kevin Turner, who died in 2016.
She started the Changing the Narrative Award, which she has also given to Southern Illinois’ Withney Simon and UAB’s Craig Kanyangarara. Simon wants to help children in his native Haiti, and Kanyangarara intends to open an orphanage in Zimbabwe. Delattiboudere plans on using it in the juvenile justice system.
Baribeau is working with the NCAA to reward those players who have been honored with the Changing the Narrative Award, a $3,000 grant that can be used to either start or donate to a nonprofit business. She has also volunteered to teach public speaking to any athlete who reaches out. In turn, those athletes are starting to speak at their community schools.
“Who is a 16-year-old going to listen to, a star football player or me?” Baribeau said. “It’s the star football player, so this is something that just hits on so many levels. Since I’ve been doing this, I’ve always been looking to take the next step.”
Baribeau’s work is far from finished. She has placed more emphasis on mental health since Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski committed suicide last Jan. 16. Baribeau considers herself a mother/aunt/sisterlike figure for the athletes, something Delattiboudere also took to heart.
“Being able to open up and say, ‘I’m not OK,’ that’s something a lot of football players are missing right now,” Delattiboudere said. “Being able to tell that older person that you’re going through some things is important. As a freshman, I bottled up a lot of those emotions and I didn’t want to talk. I don’t want any of the freshmen or any other teammate to feel like they can’t open up and talk to me.”
Baribeau is one of those friends now, and she intends on making many more. She talked about the direct messages, including one in which a player sent her a sonogram of his baby. That made her cry, too, but happy tears.
It’s a much different narrative now.
“I can’t put into words how satisfying it is. I crisscrossed the country, sometimes to my own detriment, but they keep me going. But it comes down to this a lot of times,” Baribeau said before a pause. “Call somebody by who they were created to be, then watch them rise up to it.”
By Bill Bender
Each night as fall camp continues, Jeremy Pruitt brings in a speaker to stand in front of his Tennessee football team and share an important message.
On Monday night that speaker was Rachel Baribeau, a host on Sirius XM’s ESPNU radio channel. She wasn’t there to talk sports radio.
Baribeau, 38, once a victim of domestic violence, has traveled from campus to campus the last two years talking to athletes about finding their purpose, treating women with respect, being a good teammate and a good person.
“That’s important to us,” Pruitt said Thursday afternoon. “It’s important to our society.”
It’s important to Baribeau to change the narrative. “Changing the narrative,” as she describes it, is a movement sweeping the country, with 31 teams so far serving as her audience.
“We talk to these young men about purpose, passion, platform,” Baribeau said. “How do we view women? How do we treat women? How to be a king every day of your life. If you do that, you’re going to get a queen.
“How to live an extraordinary life, breath rarified air.”
The message to the Vols on Tuesday also touched on selflessness. Losing the focus on yourself to gain focus on everyone else, on your team.
“She said it’s not about you,” Tennessee long snapper Riley Lovingood said. “She’s right. It’s not about me, not about any individual person. It’s about the team.”
During her speech, Baribeau shares the details of when she became a victim of domestic violence, including some of the graphic details, like being drug down a hallway by her hair.
“She made a huge impact on our team and each player,” Lovingood said. “Because the time we get to knowing it’s not about each individual person but about each other, and accountability, that’s when our team will really strive.”
Pruitt, on the job at Tennessee since December, has already had to deal with once incident involving domestic violence.
Ryan Thaxton, a freshman defensive lineman from Alexandria, Va., was arrested on July 15 and charged with domestic assault and false imprisonment. He was suspended on July 16 and dismissed from the team a week later.
“We’re not going to condone it,” Pruitt said last month. We’re not going to tolerate it.”
By spreading her message, Baribeau is trying to eliminate those kind of incidents among college athletes.
“Man, I’m just blown away by these football players today,” Baribeau said, “and feel so blessed and honored to share with them and pour into them.
“And hopefully help them find what sets their soul on fire, to find their own ‘Changing the Narrative.’ I want them to be kings in everyday of their life.”
But Baribeau said it’s more than that.
“It’s the way we look at women,” she said, “deep down how we feel about women, because eventually that is going to come out.
“I encourage them to be kings; to respect, protect and treasure women. It’s really how we talk about them, how we view them, especially when they’re not around.
“We want to encourage men, and inspire men. That’s what happened (Monday). To go out and treat women with the utmost respect.”
By Grant Ramey
Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt has held steady life-focused meetings with his players in recent months.
There have been meetings about drugs, alcohol and respecting women, many of which took place through the summer months.
On Monday, speaker Rachel Baribeau came to Knoxville to talk to the Vols, and part of her message pertained to how to treat women.
“I think it had a big impact on us,” linebacker Darrell Taylor said. “It shows us how to be more respectful to women and how to stand up for women and how to take care of women on an everyday basis.”
Baribeau, who also works as an ESPN radio personality, is the founder of Changing The Narrative.
She travels to college campuses to speak to student-athletes, sharing messages centered on three principles: purpose, passion and platform. She also makes a point to discuss how to treat women, which led to her appearance as the latest speaker in Tennessee preseason practices.
“That’s important to us. It’s important to our society,” Pruitt said. “I know Rachel. She spoke at a place I was at before. I think she does a really good job. Every night (during camp), we bring in speakers, whether it’s about being a leader or being a good teammate.
“She did a really good job the other day, and we’ve had a lot of good speakers this fall camp.”
Pruitt dismissed redshirt freshman linebacker Ryan Thaxton after an arrest on charges of domestic assault and false imprisonment in July. The first-year UT coach said at SEC Media Days the Vols are “not going to tolerate” violence against women.
Junior offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy previously heard Baribeau speak during his time at Alabama – the visit Pruitt alluded to. Kennedy said much of the message remained consistent, while saying it remains relevant and key.
“It’s very important to create a great atmosphere in the locker room,” Kennedy said. “You don’t want any bad things. So that was good from Rachel.”
Baribeau’s focus also is on the players becoming well-rounded men in society. She likes to call them to be “kings” and conduct themselves accordingly.
Part of that means a sense of accountability among a team, which long snapper Riley Lovingood pointed to as the most important part of the message for him. The junior hopes that leads to the Vols staying on track both on and off the field.
“We really just focus on us and what we control here,” Lovingood said. “If I keep my brother next to me and beside me accountable – and we are all doing that across the line – then we shouldn’t have any worries about that. That’s the culture we are creating here with Coach Pruitt.”
By Mike Wilson
Jeremy Pruitt brought in a special guest speaker this week to educate his Tennessee football on team on respecting women.
ESPN radio host Rachel Baribeau talked to the team Monday about purpose, passion and platform – as well as how to treat women.
Baribeau is the founder of the “Changing the Narrative” platform, which seeks to mentor young athletes to go against the trend of negative news stories and poor decisions made by football players.
“It’s important to us, it’s important to our society,” Pruitt said Thursday. “I know Rachel. She spoke at a place I was at before. She does a really good job.”
Pruitt said he’s met with the team once per month since he’s been on Rocky Top to discuss responsibility when it comes to drugs, alcohol, and respecting women. Players took a wellness test during the summer and met once a week.
Baribeau’s “Changing the Narrative” Twitter account tweeted out after Monday’s meeting: “Many of these guys are dying for the world to know they are more than just football players.
“They are Kings who are going to use their platform to change the world around them!” she continued.
Redshirt junior long snapper Riley Lovingood said the main message he gained from the talk was one of accountability.
“It’s not about me, it’s not about any individual, it’s about the team,” Lovingood said. “I thought Miss Rachel was a great speaker.
“She made a huge impact on our team, each player,” Lovingood continued. “The time we get to know that it’s not about each individual person, but about each other and accountability, that’s when our team will really strive.”
If all goes well, and the Vols can challenge each other to be better men off the field, it will make them even more excited to compete on it during practice.
And Lovingood likes the makeup of the team so far.
“You got guys competing four or five deep at each position,” Lovingood said. “Then you’ll have the best guys starting on Saturdays. That’s what we want as a team. That’s what I think everyone wants.”