Recently, reports of domestic and sexual violence related to NFL players have dominated headlines. As part of its response, the NFL has outlined goals related to preventing and increasing awareness of domestic and sexual violence.

Goals include education for players, team staff, and their families and friends; support for victims through funding for national organizations responding to domestic and sexual violence; and use of the NFL as a platform to bring awareness to domestic and sexual violence prevention efforts.

Luckily in New England, we’ve had a team focused on these issues for well over a decade, long before the recent scrutiny of the NFL’s response to domestic and sexual violence.

In 1999, the New England Patriots were one of the first NFL teams to be part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention program, a nationally recognized best practice program focused on responding to sexism and violence against women. The Patriots regularly prioritize supporting domestic violence agencies across the region through their program, which encourages and celebrates volunteerism.

PATRIOTS LEAD BY EXAMPLE

And, last year, the New England Patriots’ Charitable Foundation donated $10,000 to Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services (which serves Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties) – via an award to their board chair, Bill Lowenstein.

The organized efforts are critical and pave the way toward better support for victims, more awareness and a better understanding of violence. However, small, everyday acts can also help us move toward ending domestic and sexual violence. These small acts include something as simple as a man – an NFL quarterback, in fact – making pancakes with his kids.

Gisele Bundchen, Tom Brady’s wife, recently posted a photo on her Facebook account of Tom Brady making pancakes with their children. National headlines proclaimed Brady as a top quarterback and pancake master. You may be asking yourself, what do pancakes have to do with violence prevention?

Tom Brady making pancakes with his children isn’t just notable because he’s a star NFL player and his kids are cute. It’s national news because he’s a masculine guy, doing something that is often considered “women’s work.” Healthier gender norms are a crucial part of domestic and sexual violence prevention.

Gender norms are society’s expectations of men and women. For example, men are supposed to work outside of the home and be the main breadwinner, and women are tasked with housework, cooking, and taking care of children. Men are taught not to express emotion; women are thought of as naturally emotional.

These gender norms are ideas about how men and women are supposed to behave. These ideals and behaviors strongly influence how men and women act in all types of relationships – at work, at home, at school, and in the bedroom.

Research demonstrates that the more we move away from unhealthy gender norms and toward a place of equality – toward a place where it’s not notable for a man to make pancakes with his children, no matter how delicious they may be – the closer we get to domestic and sexual violence prevention.

But to be clear, the problem is not men being breadwinners or women being tasked with housework, but rather our collective expectation of those roles and the lack of choice it creates for both genders.

STOP IT BEORE IT STARTS

Domestic and sexual violence advocates are consistently asked, “What can I do to help? How can I help prevent these crimes?”

We can prevent domestic and sexual violence by stopping them before they start. We can acknowledge the culture we live in is one where violence is everyone’s problem. We can talk to our kids about what society expects of them as boys and girls, and ask them what they want. Girls can be strong and boys can be emotional. They can be both.

We can model healthy relationships, positive communication, and share household responsibilities. We can acknowledge that we all have a part to play in ending domestic and sexual violence.

We can post more pictures on social media of moms fixing lawn mowers and painting the garage, and dads making pancakes and dinner with their kids. The whole family can cheer for their favorite football team, as long as it’s the Patriots.

We can make healthy the norm. It seems simple, and yet the impact goes so far. As anti-domestic and anti-sexual violence organizations begin work with NFL teams, as more NFL teams work toward violence prevention and response, and as we face the playoff season: Go Pats!

— Special to the Telegram