Rachel Baribeau stood in front of more than 100 Gophers football players in the program’s auditorium in early August and asked a big question: “Who wants to take the mask off and get real with this team?”
Baribeau — a speaker, sportscaster and non-profit founder — had broken the ice, opening up about her struggles with mental health after her mother, Georgia “GiGi” Kelley, died in May after metastatic breast cancer spread to her bones, brain and liver.
“I had a very dark summer,” she recalled telling the Gophers. “I was isolated, and I was depressed. I had a night where I contemplated suicide.”
Baribeau was in her third visit to Minnesota in three years, and with that familiarity, she felt comfortable in sharing that story. In turn, her relationship with the program grew deeper.
But at first, no Minnesota players were willing to reciprocate their struggles. “There was a moment when you’re frightened and you think nobody is going,” she said.
Then, one by one, players spoke about some of their personal issues in front of all their teammates. Approximately 10 Gophers shared.
“I’m talking about very vulnerable, real, raw things that totally inspired their teammates,” Baribeau said. “I was in tears.”
For more than three years, Baribeau has been invited to travel from her home in Nashville, Tenn., for paid speaking engagements with college football programs. She has addressed teams ranging from powerhouses Clemson and Alabama to smaller schools like Buffalo and Division II’s Southwest Minnesota State, where she will talk Sunday.
She was the first speaker to go to Washington State after quarterback Tyler Hilinski committed suicide last year, and she is willing to do the talks free, if resources are tight or special needs arise.
Baribeau has spoke more than 50 times at about 35 schools, with multiple visits at places like Louisiana State, but she has come to the University of Minnesota more than any other. Her first visit to Dinkytown in 2017 came with the theme “changing the narrative,” which P.J. Fleck was hired to do after the program was mired in a sexual misconduct case in 2016.
Baribeau’s message constantly evolves from how men and women should aspire to be “kings and queens” in how they act and inspire others, and has shifted to destroying society’s idea of being perfect, which can permeate social media.
“It’s one thing to have speakers every year,” Fleck said. “It’s another thing to have topics every single year come up but have the same speaker talk about them in a very different way. Where then I feel like our players have a relationship with that person. They can text that person, they can come to that person, they will open up more to that person when they are speaking to them. Rachel has done that. She has reached to the hearts of all our players.”
Fleck and the Gophers have extended the invitation for Baribeau to speak annually and are working on a bigger collaboration they’re not yet ready to share publicly.
Gophers sophomore offensive lineman Blaise Andries was one of the players to speak in front of the team during Baribeau’s visit.
Andries, a mathematics major from Marshall, Minn., has said he felt the need to be perfect earlier in his U career and when he fell short, it became “too much.” The 6-foot-6 and 325-pound guard missed a few practices in spring 2018 and has met to the U’s sports psychology staff about his mind-set and putting things into perspective. He also credits Amy Gunter, his academic adviser in the U’s College of Science and Engineering.
“I tell myself, ‘You’re playing football and hanging around your best friends. You’re doing just fine, trust me.’ ”
Andries could tell some of the freshmen were struggling during preseason camp — the rigors of college football and no longer being the star player, that kind of stuff. During some practices, he could see it on their faces in practice, and with fellow offensive linemen, he would help make calls at the line of scrimmage.
He used his talk to share his story and address them specifically.
“I can tell you are trying to be a big manly man, but it’s OK to go talk to someone,” he recalled telling the team. “It’s OK to go open up. I struggled with it the same as you guys, and I probably broke down a lot more than you guys. If you need someone to talk to, you can come talk to me.”
A few teammates have taken Andries up on his offer.
After Baribeau shared the story about losing her mom, she asked the Gophers, “Who here has lost somebody significant to them that rocked their world?”
“Nearly every hand shot up in the damn room,” she said. This was therapeutic for her.
“It’s not just me,” she told the Pioneer Press. “My loss was significant. She died in my arms, and I nursed her for 10 months through cancer. I put my life on hold to be there, but in asking everybody who had a significant loss — I can’t quantify if your aunt is just as special as my mom.”
Fleck, Andries and Baribeau each shared how the goal is to break stereotypes that men are not supposed to share their feelings.
“You are a man! Tough! You can’t have feelings; that is so not true,” Fleck said. “I think some of the best men I’ve ever met have the most feelings. They know how to direct them, how to channel them. They know how to go to somebody else for help when they need it. We are providing all those resources for our student athletes. That being a man is saying, ‘yes, I have an issue. Yes, I have a problem. Yes, I need help.’ ”
After Baribeau’s talk, more than 20 players stayed after to thank her, sharing more personal details or just stopping to give her a hug. This has become routine at Baribeau’s other stops.
“For so many of these athletes, they have been told their only worth is how good they are on a field,” Baribeau said. “So their identity is so closely tied to that, and it’s really sad. I can’t tell you how many have hugged and cried and they’ve told me, ‘Ms. Rachel, you are the first person to tell me I have worth outside of football.’ That will break your heart and make your heart at the same time.”
Baribeau said it’s important for fans to remember players are people, too, when Saturdays come and the focus goes to a quarterback’s interception or a linebacker’s missed tackle.
Gophers senior defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere spoke in front of the team at previous meetings with Baribeau. He has since grown close with Baribeau, texting her and appearing on her Sirius XM radio show.
“I just felt like it was really cool to have her back a third time because it felt like she was family,” he said.
DeLattiboudere knows more about his fellow upperclassmen’s stories, but in Baribeau’s latest visit, he learned about what some of his younger teammates have been dealing with.
“I was like I need to try to make sure I can lead them in this way, let me make sure I can check on him when he goes through this,” DeLattiboudere said. “That was the clicking point for me when I was like my leadership style has to turn more empathetic.
“When you have a connection where you know a guy’s story, that’s way different than just lining up next to a guy and playing.”
Rachel Baribeau has spent the better part of her adult life talking about college football, typically focusing on teams at the top of the national rankings and players in the hunt for the Heisman Trophy.
For Baribeau, the narrative changed in the summer of 2016 when she found the shows she did as a host on Sirius radio were geared more to those making headlines for the wrong reasons, most prominently the rape scandal with the Baylor football team.
“It was guys all over the country getting in trouble,” Baribeau recalled this week. “It was domestic violence, sexual violence. I remember doing a show on Sirius in Nashville and, I’m not kidding you, I literally took a [commercial] break and I cried. I was like, ‘What is going on here?’
“I had given my life to covering this sport. I know there are great guys that are coaching and playing, but when we let guys who are not doing it the right way steal the headlines, then you have people make these broad assessments about athletes and football players. That’s what was happening.”
Baribeau thought she was “audacious enough” to affect change.
It led Baribeau to create a curriculum — “Changing The Narrative” for high school students and eventually brought it to college programs to help football players on both levels of the sport speak about domestic violence, of which she had her own experience, as well as mental health awareness.
“I really started to listen to the players because they wait afterwards to talk to me,” Baribeau said. “I’ve talked to people about why that is. I think it’s because I’m a female, I care about them, I don’t want anything from them as so many people do other than them to live at their highest and best life.”
“They tell their heartbreak, they tell me how they overcame, and they tell me what they’re dealing with. And they tell me they’re struggling. And they tell me they’ve heard the same voices that I’ve heard before to kill themselves. It’s real-life stuff.“
In the past year, Baribeau’s talks have grown to include mental health awareness, leading to a partnership for Saturday’s game between Maryland and 17th-ranked Minnesota in Minneapolis putting the issue in the spotlight.
Players on both teams will have stickers adorning their helmets, showing green ribbons, the symbol for mental health awareness. The respective coaches, Maryland’s Mike Locksley and Minnesota P.J. Fleck, will wear actual green ribbons on their shirts and a video talk by Baribeau and players from both teams will be shown at TFC Bank stadium. On the back of every game program, there will be a list of resources and information about Baribeau’s program.
During the past three years Baribeau estimates she has spoken to 40 different teams — some of them more than once — and the message she hears back from the players is usually about how they don’t quite understand how to cope with their struggles.
“I realized that mental health is something that we have to start talking about, particularly men,” Baribeau said. “By and large, a lot of men have passed down something to the men in their family generationally that is killing people across the country.
“That is the idea, to be masculine, or to be manly, you need to shove it down, shut up, don’t cry, don’t talk about it, put some dirt on it, keep moving. And because of that, we have a generation, not just of young men, but older men too that came back from the war and just stopped talking about it.”
For Locksley, it hits deep in his soul. His son Meiko, who was 25 when he was shot to death in what is still an unsolved homicide in Howard County in September of 2017, was diagnosed at age “21, 22” with Schizoaffective Disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and mood disorders such as depressor or bipolar disorder.
“Out of the blue, and Kia [his wife] and I as parents had no idea how to manage it, and what it was,” Locksley said after practice Wednesday. “NAMI [National Alliance of Mental Illness] gave us resources to deal with it. It’s really something I’ve been conscientious about.”
Locksley said that Baribeau’s hour-long talk with his team in August was helpful.
“She had some really strong messaging about taking off the mask and the stigma of having mental health issues,” Locksley said. “We talk about developing these kids mentally, socially, physically, educationally. The mental part, it’s real. The unfortunate piece I found, having dealt with it as a parent, is when a kid has a broken leg, everybody knows it and they try to get it healed.
“Having a broken brain, or a sprained brain, or whatever has created it, sometimes people don’t have as much empathy for it because they don’t know. I just think to have the awareness, if there’s something wrong, go seek help, talk to somebody. As parents, what to look out for, what are signs of it, to help your kids if they’re dealing with depression. All the things that come with it.”
Fleck said during his weekly news conference that more than Baribeau’s message is getting through with his players.
“A lot of our players have very personal relationships with her in terms of being able to share information with her that maybe they haven’t shared with a lot of other people,” Fleck said. “I think it’s important to put other resources in front of them, that have voices. … She has a huge voice in college football, she does a tremendous job, and for her to be able to take her path and her platform and to move it to this direction and to this awareness, I give her a lot of credit for doing that and I wish more people would do that.”
Baribeau said there were “two middle of the night calls” when players at different schools called and told her they were contemplating suicide. She got in touch with officials at their respective schools, which quickly took action to make sure the players received immediate help.
“Thankfully they did not follow through with it,” Baribeau said.
Baribeau said that she has struggled with her own mental-health issues in recent months, since her mother died in early May.
“I had a night when I heard voices telling me to kill myself,” she said. “Thankfully I survived that. Truly, I believe I survived that because I have experience and I can say to somebody who’s struggling, ‘I’ve been there before. Here’s what I would have done, here’s what a professional told me I should have done what that happened.’ I now have the blueprint to help other people.”
Baribeau said that helping broker the partnership between the Terps and Gophers “is probably one of the proudest moments of my life.”
That life is about to undergo a major change. Toward the end of a telephone interview Thursday, Baribeau told The Baltimore Sun that she will leave her job at Sirius and her other college football reporting duties at the end of the current season to focus of getting her message out to more athletes, coaches, schools and parents.
It starts with what she tries to convey to them from the start.
“I’ve told them, ‘I’m a lifer, as long as you want me, as long as you need me, I’m here for you,’” Baribeau said. “I’m not going away and I want to come back. Schools like Minnesota and now Maryland — and Mike has promised to have me back in — that’s where the magic really happens where you have the continual relationship with me. They know they can trust me. I don’t want anything from them.”
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MINNEAPOLIS — As Minnesota waited in the locker room to take the field and face overmatched Rutgers last week, coach P.J. Fleck was collecting his thoughts when a staff member interrupted to report that Wisconsin had just lost to Illinois in the biggest stunner of the season so far in major college football.
Initially hesitant to present a potential distraction to his players, Fleck chose to weave the result into his pregame speech out of respect for the danger of letting up against a lesser opponent.
“This could happen to you,” Fleck told them.
Though the Gophers passed the focus test with a 42-7 victory over a Scarlet Knights team on the verge of finishing as one of the worst in Big Ten history, the same message is relevant one week later.
Currently 17th in the Associated Press Top 25, the program’s highest ranking in 15 years, the Gophers (7-0, 4-0) host Maryland (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday as 15-point favorites with a prime opportunity to build a two-game lead in the West Division because the Badgers play at third-ranked Ohio State.
With a bye waiting the following week, there is a widespread assumption the Gophers will take an 8-0 record into their game Nov. 9 against No. 6 Penn State.
Not if they lose their edge, though, against a Terrapins team that has plenty of game-breaking players despite some struggles in conference play under first-year coach Michael Locksley.
“Literally on any given Saturday, if you’re not at your best, if you don’t play to the best of your ability, you can get beat by anybody, no matter who it is,” Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgansaid. “It’s always about us. If we don’t play our best, no matter what happens, we can get beat.”
That’s what happened to Minnesota the last two years, albeit with teams not as strong as this one. The Gophers allowed 315 rushing yards, turned the ball over three times and lost 42-13 at Maryland in 2018, and in 2017 they fell 31-24 at home after giving up 262 rushing yards and producing two turnovers.
“They’re crazy athletic. Their running backs, if they hit a crease, they take it for 100 yards,” Minnesota defensive end Carter Coughlin said. “So we’ve got to make sure that everybody’s in our gaps. Everybody needs to be extremely disciplined.”
BACKFIELD IN MOTION
The Terrapins welcome back two stars from sprained ankles, quarterback Josh Jackson and running back Anthony McFarland Jr. Jackson missed the last two games, and McFarland was held out of last week’s 34-28 loss to Indiana after gaining only four yards on four carries in the previous game, a defeat by Purdue. Javon Leake rushed for a career-high 158 yards against the Hoosiers, but McFarland was still missed.
“He was as frustrated as I was and as we were as a team that he wasn’t at 100%, and to have 100% Anthony McFarland will help the Terps,” Locksley said.
STRONG START STATS
The Gophers, who are one of 10 undefeated teams remaining in the FBS, have not been 8-0 since 1941, when they were national champions. Their last 5-0 start in the Big Ten was 1961, the season of their last trip to the Rose Bowl. Including the final two contests of 2018, the Gophers have won nine straight games for the first time since 1941-42. With a 116-31 combined margin of victories over Illinois, Nebraska and Rutgers this month, Minnesota has won three consecutive conference games by 20-plus points for the first time since 1935.
The Terrapins have forced a turnover in 19 straight games, the second-longest streak in the FBS behind Syracuse (21). An interception in the end zone by Antoine Brooks Jr. last week extended the run, though that was hardly solace from a shoddy performance in which they yielded 520 yards in offense to Indiana. The Terps have picked off six passes and recovered five fumbles for a plus-2 turnover differential.
Both teams will wear green ribbon decals on their helmets to promote mental health awareness, a topic that hits close to home for Locksley. He had a green ribbon pinned to his chest during his weekly news conference. Locksley’s son, Meiko, was shot to death in 2017 in a suburb of Baltimore. He was 25. Meiko Locksley was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder several years earlier, and the case remains unsolved.
The ribbons, Locksley said, “bring some awareness to mental health and how it affects especially kids from the age of 18 to 22. This is kind of that range where you see it usually kick in. So, I know the athletic department, as well as myself and my family, are proud to take part in a game like this.”
Fleck has had speaker, author and advocate Rachel Baribeau talk to his team about mental health each year he’s been at Minnesota. She will attend the game, and Gophers players will go through warmups wearing T-shirts with the message, “I’m Changing The Narrative,” the name of her nonprofit.
More AP college football coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com’s automated news wire. Wire index
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YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee hosted the first-ever national conference on violence against women and healthy masculinity at the Music City Center in downtown Nashville on Sept. 9 and 10. The SHIFT – AMEND Together Conference was sponsored by Vanderbilt Sports and Society and Allstate Foundation. The two-day event kicked off with actor, activist and Time’s 2017 Person of the Year and Silence Breaker, Terry Crews.
“This is not a women’s issue,” Crews told the standing room only crowd. “This is a humanity issue—but it’s a new day.” The actor shared his personal story growing up in an abusive household in Michigan, the unhealthy lessons he learned about manhood, and his sexual assault at the hands of a Hollywood executive. Later that evening, former football great, actor, and entrepreneur Eddie George opened up to attendees about his own experience witnessing violence as a child and advocating for change.
More than 300 individuals representing over 100 nonprofit, business, faith, and educational organizations attended the SHIFT Conference. YWCA affiliates from across the country were well represented, with more than a dozen leaders traveling to Nashville from as far away as Hawaii, Ohio, and Maine. YWCA USA CEO Alejandra Castillo was the keynote speaker on day one of the conference, and survivor Rachel Baribeau told her story of empowerment. Activist and speaker Brenda Tracy wrapped up the conference on day two. Tracy travels the country sharing her story with athletes on college campuses to empower them to be agents of cultural change.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. One in four women and one in nine men will experience severe intimate partner physical violence. Historically, one in five women have been sexually assaulted on college campuses, and one in five children witness domestic violence each year in the U.S.
YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee launched the AMEND Together program at the end of 2013 to address the crisis of violence against women by educating boys and young men, challenging the culture that supports violence, and cultivating healthy masculinity. Today, AMEND Together works with hundreds of boys in 22 Metro Nashville Public Schools. YWCA VP of External Affairs and AMEND Together Shan Foster planned the national conference and speaks locally and across the nation about this innovative violence prevention initiative.
“The SHIFT Conference validates that there is an incredible need for this information and desire to change our culture as it relates to ending violence against women,” Foster said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the work we are doing in Nashville and am thrilled that it will now be spreading across the country.”
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PANAMA CITY – Inspirational speaker and sports broadcaster Rachel Baribeau stopped by Bay High School to remind students they are kings and queens.
Baribeau spoke to students Monday and used those terms to remind them of their self-worth. Baribeau encouraged students to be confident, help others and overcome obstacles. “You are not a victim,” Baribeau said. “You are a victor.” Baribeau shared elements of her life to connect with and motivate students, including how she worked for three years unpaid and survived suicidal thoughts and domestic abuse. After the speech, students came up to hug and talk to Baribeau.
Student Danielle Cade, 17, said the speech touched her because she has gone through things with Hurricane Michael and daily life. “I just have a new perspective on life, to talk to myself better in the mornings and try to bring up other people and spread her word to everyone,” Danielle said.
Baribeau promoted the Bay High appearance on social media, saying in one Twitter post she couldn’t “wait to touch this community.” Baribeau donated a virtual training program designed to help them through the challenges of life — it usually sells for $299 a person — to each of the students. Baribeau’s slogan is #changingthenarrative, evident on the website imchangingthenarrative.org. She looks back on her struggles as a foundation of what she does.
“Don’t curse your struggle,” Baribeau said. “Let your haters be your motivators.” Baribeau told the students life will come at them quick. “Are you a king or are you a follower?” Baribeau asked as students cheered. Baribeau encouraged students to stand out instead of wanting to fit in and said students can “keep walking” and “get to stepping” if other people don’t recognize their worth.
She also discussed mental health issues, saying a lot of students may smile to people but “die on the inside.” Baribeau related to that, mentioning her own struggles helping her mom, who died in May from cancer.
Ending on a positive note, Baribeau said she is there for the students. “I came out the fire and I got buckets of water for everybody that’s still burning,” Baribeau said.
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September 2, 2019
Rachel Baribeau was standing in front of dozens of Maryland football players who were all eager to speak with her. She had done her talking; it was now time to listen.
It’s a normal occurrence for the SiriusXM College host and assault survivor to have as many as 50 players talk to her personally about what they’re doing to become better people, or kings, as Baribeau likes to put it, after she speaks with them about a wide range of topics ranging from sexual assault to domestic violence.
That was the same case when she visited the Terps.
“[Head coach] Mike Locksley called me … and he said we want to get you here, let’s figure it out, we must do this,” Baribeau said on Glenn Clark Radio
In the wake of the Baylor University sexual assault scandal in 2016, Baribeau revealed in an essay about a broken culture in college football that she was an assault survivor. She has told of an instance when she and several other couples were together when the man she was dating became angry.
“He dragged me from one end of the house to the other by my hair,” she said to a team last year
. “I screamed bloody murder and no one came to help. Three men, and none of them [helped].”
Since then, she has visited campuses as an advocate for assault survivors and spoken to college football players about how they can become better people.
“It really is so much more than domestic violence,” Baribeau said on GCR. “My message is a holistic approach to the whole man or woman. We talk about purpose, passion, platform, how we view and treat women.”
Like much of the sports world, Baribeau is all too familiar with the hardships Maryland players have experienced the past 18 months with the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who died two weeks after suffering heatstroke during a team workout last spring. She normally talks with head coaches beforehand to make the conversation a little more personal for each team, and while she didn’t touch on the McNair tragedy much, she still did so in a way that seemed appropriate to her.
“There was one particular moment where I said to them the world was watching, and they watched how you conducted your business,” Baribeau said. “They watched what you endured. They watched you come together. They watched you play in his honor. They watched you. I said I and the rest of the world watched you come together as a team, and it was beautiful.”
There are usually a few different types of players when Baribeau comes to speak to a team. There are the players who are tired or the ones who say they have heard her story before. But by the time she is finished, they are all captivated by what she has to say.
That isn’t what keeps her going, though. Rather, it’s the moments after when the players speak to her that make it truly worthwhile.
“They tell me about their life, they tell me about their heartbreak,” Baribeau said. “They tell me about the things they’re going to do with their lives and … how they were going to be a king. If the after-effect and relationships and connection wasn’t there, I would have quit a long time ago.”
Baribeau encourages having a safe space for players to talk about anything; she puts up her Twitter handle after every visit and usually “about 50 to 60” players follow her right after she’s done. But more importantly, she and the coaches understand these players need an open line of communication in order to be better people, both on and off the field.
“A guy like Coach Locksley gets it,” Baribeau said. “If you’ve got a guy who’s not carrying burdens while he’s playing football and practicing, then he going to be a better football player. Period. End of story. The whole aspect of mental health is so, so big and something I’ve been really focusing on for the last year and a half when I recognized how broken these young men are.”
In the wake of the controversy surrounding Jim Harbaugh and his comments on mental health and transfers, we wanted to understand, not only that situation better, but also more about the stigma surrounding mental health, how mental illness affects not only athletes, but all of us, and what we can do about it.
So we brought on two special guests for this important episode: former Michigan DE Will Heininger and SiriusXM’s Rachel Baribeau.
Heininger struggled with depression during time at Michigan, but sought help, and now works with athletes at the university to help treat issues proactively and beyond. Baribeau recognized spreading mental health awareness among athletes as her recent calling, and is meeting with Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan team soon to discuss the importance of not ignoring mental health issues.
Both went into great detail about the issues, the solutions, what they’re doing, Jim Harbaugh’s role in all of this as it pertains to Michigan and much more on this supersized episode.
If you’re dealing with depression or any other mental health issues or suicide ideation, please call 1-800-273-8255 and/or reach out to a licensed mental health professional.
For helpful resources and information, visit https://campusmindworks.org and https://depressioncenter.org. For more on Will and his story, as well as what the university is doing, visit https://athletesconnected.umich.edu/.
You can visit Rachel Baribeau’s site, Changing the Narrative, and learn more about her mission at http://www.imchangingthenarrative.org/.
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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.
“There was a night, many moons ago, when someone who claimed to love me, was on a roid rage and drug me from one end of the house to the other by my hair,” she said. “I had chunks of hair missing and carpet burns all over my body. There were three other couples in the house that night and nobody came to help me. When I talk to the players, I tell them there were no kings in the house that night, I talk to them about to respect, protect and cherish women.”
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
LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE
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
LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE