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.