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.”
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.
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
Tennessee is among more than 30 schools to invite sportscaster Rachel Baribeau to speak to its football team.
Rachel has started an initiative called “Changing the Narrative”, and she’s spoken to young athletes at schools like Clemson, Alabama, Oregon and most recently, Tennessee.
“Really we talk about purpose, passion, platform,” said Baribeau. How do you view women and how do you treat women. And, in the past two years in 31 schools, we’ve added stuff about masculinity and about how it’s actually wonderfully masculine and strong to admit that you’re struggling with something.
“You talk about stereotypes and how they are being stereotyped, how do they feel marginalized. They tell me they feel people call them stupid, entitled, dumb, spoiled, selfish and so we talk about how we challenge those stereotypes.”
Baribeau originally intended to visit high schools, but an opportunity opened for her to speak at Texas A&M, and the movement quickly spread. Now, it’s her mission to train athletes to go into high schools so they too can serve.
“A little small idea that I had, God turned it into something bigger than I could have ever imagined.”
The University of Tennessee has already invited Baribeau back to speak to some of the women’s programs and to work more with the football team.
“There’s a lot of guys there that said yes, I want you to teach me public speaking, I want to go into area high schools, I want to go into my high school at home. I want to take this platform and something with it.”
The responses that Baribeau has received from athletes has been overwhelming.
“I had this guy last night stand in front of me and I’ll forever remember it. He had tears in his eyes and I had tears in my eyes and he said, Miss Rachel, where I come from, nobody has ever told me that I have worth outside of football. Nobody’s every really told me that I can be something beyond a football player. He said Thank you for reminding me that I have worth outside of what I do on the football field. That one got me.”
By Chierstin Susel
Part life coach, part domestic violence speaker, Rachel Baribeau spoke to the WSU football team Monday about how to treat women, be good citizens, embrace their own vulnerability and maximize their platforms.
General Jim Mattis spoke to the Washington State football team about leadership in 2016, a few months before he was appointed Secretary of Defense.
Eric Thomas, a motivational speaker and minister from Detroit, also has shared his story about going from homelessness to graduating from college with the Cougars’ football team.
But speaker who stood before the WSU football team in Pullman on Monday was different from anyone they’d hosted before.
For one, Rachel Baribeau is a woman, and for another, she addressed the team about moving beyond the masculine stereotypes surrounding football players, challenging them to connect with one another and contribute to society in meaningful ways.
Baribeau is a sportscaster on SiriusXM Radio who, since 2016, has moonlighted as a motivational speaker on the college football circuit. Part life coach, part domestic violence speaker, Baribeau speaks to college football teams about how to treat women, be good citizens, embrace their own vulnerability and maximize their platforms.
The death of WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski in January has struck a national conversation about the importance of encouraging young men to express their emotions, and Baribeau’s trip to WSU was prompted, in part by a former high school teammate of Hilinski’s, who was touched by Baribeau’s message when she spoke at his school last fall.
Tatum Slack, a junior cornerback at the University of Buffalo, played with Hilinski at Upland (Calif.) High School and was deeply moved by Baribeau’s talk in Buffalo last August. After Hilinski’s death, Slack contacted Baribeau and suggested that she speak to the grieving Cougars.
“She came and talked to our team and had a very powerful message, and I was just inspired by her. She gives off a very loving vibe, I felt it would be good for them,” Slack said. “Being in that situation, as a football player, you’re in the locker room with the dude every single day and that can take a toll on somebody. As far as mental health, as college football players, we’re not taught to be emotional and stuff like that.”
Baribeau knew WSU coach Mike Leach from his brief stint as a radio host on SiriusXM. So she reached out to him offering to speak to the Cougars, and Leach enthusiastically accepted, making WSU the 24th stop on Baribeau’s “Changing the Narrative” tour of college football programs.
“Rachel’s got a very positive, ‘achieve your full potential, be a king of life’ message illustrating how important everybody is and can be if they focus and achieve,” Leach said. “The room listened carefully and I think it made some people think and brought some perspective.”
Baribeau conceived her “Changing the Narrative” curriculum after the torrid summer of 2016 when college football was plagued by a rash of sexual assault or domestic violence cases involving players at numerous Division I programs throughout the country.
“Society is fostering a place where women are not respected, where we are disposable,” Baribeau said. “I just saw a problem and I said, “I’m going to do something about it.’”
Now, Baribeau goes from one college football facility to another sharing her domestic violence experience, and talking about how men should treat women and how football players can use their platforms to make an impact on their communities and effect positive change.
She uses the catchphrase, “Be a King,” which, Baribeau tells players, means to “be a king in every area of your life. Not just the football field. Be a king with your word, effort, time, character and certainly in the way you respect, protect and cherish women.”
Part of that involves teaching men to get in touch with their feelings.
“I really feel like the music, popular culture and movies are giving young men the message that they don’t have to be involved, that there’s something wrong with sharing your feelings and they don’t have to tell people when they’re hurting,” Baribeau said.
Baribeau tries to be a big sister to the college football players she speaks to, and her approachable nature makes the guys want to open up to her.
“Every day we’re surrounded by men,” Slack said. “So just having a strong woman come up and talk to you, and to be able to talk to her, is helpful. I feel some men are more able to express themselves and be emotional when talking to women instead of men.”
The Cougars were no different.
On Monday, the WSU football team paid rapt attention during Baribeau’s presentation in which she shared her experiences on different subjects, including an anecdote about how the ALS diagnosis of her friend, former Philadelphia Eagles fullback Kevin Turner, changed her life.
That resonated with the Cougars because of their ties to WSU and New Orleans Saints great Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.
“I do think she was very helpful, just in getting guys to talk,” said senior WSU defensive lineman Nick Begg. “And I also thought it was good what she said about respect for women. You hear all the time in the news about domestic violence cases. To have a woman preach to you that you’re good, and you’re better than that, puts confidence in you to go out and be that guy.”
Baribeau stayed for a couple of hours after her talk, and about 30 different WSU players came up to hug her and chat about life.
Two in particular struck a chord with Baribeau when they revealed they’d experienced homelessness during periods of their lives.
“One said, nobody really knew, and that he’d been able to hide it, and he didn’t want to hide it anymore and wanted to talk about it and not be ashamed of it,” Baribeau said. “The other said that at some points he didn’t know where he’d get his next meal. Those stories stay with you.”
Baribeau will return to WSU in August to announce the winner of the “Changing the Narrative Award,” which she devised and cleared with the NCAA in January.
The whole team will vote on the winner – a young man who exemplifies the “Changing the Narrative” tenets of thoughtfulness, service and communication, and who treats women well and gives maximum effort.
When the winner leaves school, he’ll be eligible for an endowment to help him start his own foundation.
“I want to teach them what it feels like to serve,” Baribeau said. “I told them, ‘Even if you don’t win the award, I’ll help you start your foundation.’”
She’s also offered to train any players who want to go to high schools to share their story and teach high school athletes Baribeau’s Changing the Narrative values.
“I’ll teach them the art of public speaking and hold their hand so they can go into high schools and help guide the next generation,” Baribeau said. “My hope is to shepherd and guide these guys, not to just give them fish, but to teach them to fish.”
Stefanie Loh | Seattle Times Staff Reporter
CARBONDALE, Ill. — Sports radio personality Rachel Baribeau — feet constantly moving — jokes, cajoles, cries, laughs and rants in front of 100 football players at least twice her size.
Find your purpose! Fulfill it. Be the good guys you were made to be! Treat all women with respect and be the kings your queens need you to be.
Baribeau suddenly stops, pauses and locks eyes with some of the men who are riveted by the powerhouse in front of them.
“On a night, many moons ago,” she said, voice softening, “I needed a king.”
Baribeau tells the players she was in a house with six couples; things got ugly.
“I was dating somebody,” Baribeau said, and he got angry.
“He dragged me from one end of the house to the other by my hair. I screamed bloody murder and no one came to help. Three men, and none of them were kings.”
“If you were in the house that night, would you have helped me?”
Baribeau lets that sink in. After a few seconds, two guys in the front rows answer quietly: “I would’ve helped you.”
“Thank you,” she says, tears in her eyes.
Two years ago — sickened by story after story about college athletes and rape, cheating and doping — Baribeau came up with an audacious plan:
She would change the narrative about college sports.
A narrative that includes a 2016 lawsuit charging a UT basketball player and four UT football players with rape; a narrative that includes three former Vanderbilt football players being convicted in a 2013 gang rape of an unconscious female student on campus. (A fourth player is awaiting trial.)
Baribeau, 38, a Nashvillian for three years, wanted to take back the headlines and change America’s perception of college football players. And she would do it by challenging those players, one campus at a time.
A host on Sirius XM’s ESPNU radio channel, Baribeau has spoken to 23 college football teams. She has stayed in touch with hundreds of athletes and handed out thousands of “Change the Narrative” rubber wristbands.
In many cases, it’s her story of being a victim (she calls herself a “victor”) of domestic violence that really connects with players.
“She wasn’t shy at all about revealing pieces of herself. That started to get through,” said Craig Kanyangarara, 25, a linebacker at University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“She was authentic.”
Darrell James, a senior wide receiver at Southern Illinois University, agreed.
“When she mentioned her life and domestic violence, I didn’t expect it,” James said. “For someone who’s been through that in her life, she’s strong.”
Baribeau uses frank language to confront players and challenge them to be better men. No more “hit it and quit it,” she tells the guys.
But treatment of women is just a part of her speech.
She starts out making fun of herself by showing a video of her working out with an arena football team. Turns out Baribeau isn’t a very good wide receiver; she drops or misses about a dozen passes.
Turning serious, Baribeau also speaks of:
► Finding true passion and purpose because football is only a platform;
► Serving others, at any cost (Baribeau once climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa to help raise money for ALS research);
► Confronting others, in appropriate ways, when bad behavior, degradation or bullying is happening;
► Forgiving those — deadbeat dads, abusers and others — who have wronged them.
Dubious at first, most players respond enthusiastically to her message.
More than half of them stick around afterward for quick hellos or pictures or hugs.
And at least a dozen or two spend several minutes each with Baribeau sharing stories of growing up with neglect, poverty or abuse.
Her presentation often turns into a three-hour visit, which Baribeau finds exhilarating – and emotionally draining. She often finds herself taking in their pain, unable to shake it for days.
“I sometimes sit in my rental car after with my head against the steering wheel,” she said.
Baribeau charges a few thousand bucks for each presentation, in part to cover costs and in part to build a pot of money – with the NCAA’s blessing – to help athletes start their own foundations.
Such is the case with Bradley Bozeman, 23, who just finished his college career as a center at Alabama.
Bozeman said he always wanted to do some motivational speaking. And he got inspired and focused after hearing Baribeau’s talk.
“She helped open that up for me,” he said. “She helped me start an anti-bullying campaign. It was really cool to me.”
Baribeau said she loves when athletes share with her, months after meeting her, that they have changed their behavior. She is even happier when players like Bozeman want to pay it forward.
“I’m constantly amazed that God lets me do this work, that I got chosen to have this platform,” she said. “It’s life changing.”
By Brad Schmitt, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee