Edmonton Football Team partners with Voice project

Having been a professional athlete and now running a professional sports league, Randy Ambrosie knows the impact that words can carry to fans when they come from the sports world.

The commissioner of the Canadian Football League, Ambrosie has seen it time and time again. That’s why he has so enthusiastically endorsed VOICE, a project funded through Alberta’s ministry of community and social services and commissioned the University of Alberta’s student’s union gender-based violence prevention program.

“We’ve had the honour to work with some amazing women, who work on the front lines and have for years. They are true experts, not me,” Ambrosie said.

“But they have told us over the years that men and boys listen differently to other males, and they listen in an unique way when that person is someone they admire, like a professional athlete. When a top quarterback says there is no such thing as acceptable locker room talk that degrades women, it carries some unique weight.”

VOICE stands for Valuable Opportunities to Inspire Change through Empowerment. The initial pilot project worked with local professional, university and community teams to launch a program that worked to empower athletes as leaders in their local communities. Program participants are encouraged, coached and supported to identify, interrupt and intervene within cultures and systems fostering gender-based violence and discrimination.

Members of the Edmonton Football Team and its alumni will take the VOICE program into the community, continuing a four-year relationship that has developed in Alberta’s capital city.

Alberta’s minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women, Leela Sharon Aheer recently announced a $100,000 grant to help the program continue to reach people.

The CFL and its teams are no strangers to programs that educate and aim to prevent gender-based violence. The BC Lions, both teams in Alberta, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have taken part in programs with the same intentions and will continue to do so.

“Several of our teams are already involved in community outreach programs,” Ambrosie said.

“One of the best known – called More Than A Bystander – is being delivered by local women’s groups working with the BC Lions, Hamilton Tiger Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Other clubs are involved in this issue in other ways and all of our clubs are part of our own CFL policy on gender-based violence, which includes mandatory training and awareness for employees.”

As Ambrosie pointed out in his part of a conference call with Minister Aheer, while the CFL has been active in education on gender-based violence within its own office and with its teams across the country, we all still have more to learn. With athletes delivering the message in their communities, that work continues to be done.

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