Northeastern, MLB partner on domestic violence education program

Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society is working with Major League Baseball and the San Francisco-based nonprofit Futures Without Violence to strike out domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.

Over the past five weeks, Futures, center staff, and a team of consultants have been visiting the Spring Training facilities of all 30 MLB teams and administering the new, league-mandated domestic violence education program for all major league players on 40-man rosters. The center—which developed the curriculum in collaboration with Futures—is also training managers, coaches, scouts, front office personnel, and minor league players in 15 organizations.

The center’s partnership with Futures and MLB is especially timely, with well-publicized incidents of domestic violence by pro athletes capturing nationwide headlines.

“The scourge of violence against women and children is a worldwide issue of epidemic proportion, ” said Dan Lebowitz, the center’s executive director, “and the center is known as being a thought leader and innovator in the development and implementation of solution-based, primary-prevention curriculum to stop that violence.”

The minor league curriculum, he noted, is based on the center’s Mentors in Violence Prevention program, which was founded in 1993 to motivate athletes to address gender-based violence. The program—which has been implemented by more than 150 universities in addition to New Balance, FIFA, and the U.S. Army—views people neither as perpetrators nor victims, but as bystanders who can be empowered with the skills to non-violently intervene in potential instances of battery, sexual harassment, and rape.

The confidential, 90-minute training sessions with minor league players, held in both English and Spanish, utilize the so-called MVP Playbook to spark animated discussions. The Playbook, which employs sports terminology, consists of a series of real-life social scenarios ranging from sexual harassment to a potential rape involving alcohol.

“We’re engaging players in conversations about how to develop the skills to confront and prevent violence by their friends, family, and teammates,” said Jarrod Chin, the center’s director of training and curriculum, who helped train minor league players.

Other minor league trainers included community leaders like Jose Ruiz, a Boston police officer, and former athletes like Katie Hnida, the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I football game.

“We have a proven history and established credibility in the locker room space, which makes it easier for professional athletes to relate to our trainers,” Lebowitz said. “We’re looking to create a long-term dynamic that would continue to position the league and others in the global sports space to use the vast power of their platform to create positive social change specific to the prevention of all forms of violence,” he added. “Northeastern and the center are dedicated to that very notion of social betterment.”