‘Be Better’: Inside Good Men in Sport’s Hard-Hitting Message for Men

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At this moment, expectations for men and the way they influence the world around them are shifting. In the face of this change, one program is working to mobilize men to be a generative force for good while helping them find meaning and purpose in their lives.

That program is Good Men in Sport.

A 30-year veteran of the sport industry, Neill Duffy made the decision to refocus his efforts and energy on the intersection of sport and purpose. In 2013, Duffy founded Purpose + Sport, which provides purpose-led advisory, commercial and engagement solutions to help sports sponsors, sports properties and sports non-profits grow and remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. Through his travels, Duffy connected with the Men’s Initiative at the University of British Columbia.

The Men’s Initiative (TMI) seeks to help men connect with their masculinity in a positive and aspirational way. TMI identified a group within society known as permission givers: Men that provide other men with permission to behave in a certain way through the way that they behave. Identifying that athletes are very notable examples of permission givers, TMI approached Duffy in 2017 to help them develop an initiative to work with athletes and others in the sport industry to help present new and healthy ways for men to connect with themselves and those around them in positive ways. This initiative became Good Men in Sport.

“With Good Men in Sport, it’s about more than just telling men to be better,” Duffy states. “This is about creating a bigger culture amongst men using sport as a platform and mobilizing men in sport to be a positive force for good.”

Good Men in Sport, led by Drs. John Izzo, David Kuhl and Duncan Shields, are currently working to achieve their goal through a few different components. The first is through working directly with athletes to teach them the awareness and the skills that they need to connect with their masculinity in a positive way. Since the organization’s inception, several prominent athletes and coaches have become champions of Good Men in Sport message, including U.S. Men’s Rugby captain Blaine Scully, NFL alums Tim Hightower and Dennis Brown, professional soccer player Amobi Okugo, and Stanford men’s soccer head coach Jeremy Gunn.

Gunn and Stanford soccer were actually at the center of Good Men in Sport’s two pilot programs – one working with the student-athletes and another with the university’s coaches – to explore the concept of what it means to be a good man, how young men’s choices affect themselves and those around them, and what can be done to further the conversation around positive masculinity.

The program consists of encouraging young male athletes and those who led them to commit to three things. The first: Reflecting on how they can be a better man. The second: Connecting with each other and establishing genuine relationships. The third: Challenging themselves and each other to be the best they can be in every aspect of life.

Reception to these pilot programs has been largely positive. The Good Men in Sport teams can soon implement programs of this nature with sports teams across the U.S. and Canada.

“There’s been huge interest both amongst the players and the coaches on the topic,” says Duffy. “I think a lot of people are very happy just to have the opportunity to explore this area in more detail. If you can have a team comprising players who are good men, the chances are that team is going to perform better. The best teams are the ones where the guys look out for each other and have each other’s backs, and that’s a big component of what the program teaches. In the college environment, especially, we’ve seen an excitement in discussing what it means for men to be most productive members of society they can be.”

As 2019 begins, Good Men in Sport continues to spread its message through partnerships with BrandForward Promundo, Enso, and the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, and has recently unveiled its new website with the first content series. In the works for Good Men in Sport are a summit, additional content series on the website, and the exploration of additional partnerships.

“To take things to the next level, we are actively looking for the right brand partners,” states Duffy. “We would love to bring Good Men in Sport and the individual different programs that we’re getting off the ground to more people by working in on conjunction with partners who are aligned with our mission.”

The content series will largely focus on athletes and coaches who want to share their stories in relation to the role and identity of men in society and culture.

“There are men who are models of positive masculinity. We want them to give more voice to that,” says Izzo.

One concept at the center of the conversation of men in sport as well as society at large is “toxic masculinity.”  A pride point for GMIS is helping those involved to understand what this idea really means.

“We tend to shy away from the idea of ‘toxic masculinity,’” Izzo says. “It’s not toxic to be competitive. It’s not toxic to be a protector. It’s not toxic to be strong or stoic. When it becomes toxic is when you let that competitiveness become the thing that overwhelms your life. We’re trying to get away from this idea that we have to destroy masculinity when, really, we want to channel it in positive ways, and help men embrace a fuller form of what masculinity can mean.”

At the center of everything Good Men in Sport has accomplished and hopes to accomplish is the idea that creating a better culture for everyone can start with this generation of males — and sport can be the impetus.

“Well over 50 percent of young men in America participate in sports at really critical junctures of their life,” Izzo states. “For that reason, we felt that it was important to reach into this world and help young athletes understand how being a good man and a good person can leave a stronger legacy than anything that they accomplish on the field or court.”

Organizations or individuals looking to get involved with Good Men in Sport as partners or to add to its voice in the conversation surrounding positive masculinity can contact the Men’s Initiative through this form.