The biggest most athletic kid who gets all the girls and grows into a man who makes big cash is set up to fail.
That’s not what it means to be a man, nationally renowned sports educator Joe Ehrmann told a sold-out crowd Thursday night at Iowa City’s Englert Theatre. The crisis of this flawed sense of “masculinity” is a pscyho-social problem that eats at the foundation of community.
“How do you define ‘masculinity’ ?” Ehrmann asked. “How does a boy know when he’s become a man? What’s a man give his life to? What are the virtues, what are the characteristics that define some kind of authentic masculinity?”
Former Iowa all-American kicker and current San Diego Charger Nate Kaeding, former Hawkeye and TransAmerica executive Lon Olejniczak and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz helped bring Ehrmann to Iowa City and addressed the audience before Ehrmann took the stage. Ferentz asked for a moment of silence in honor of slain Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.
Ehrmann, a former college football all-American and NFL all-pro, sees team sports as a vehicle for his program of “Building Men for Others,” that being a man emphasizing relationships and having a cause bigger than yourself.
Sports is the lead in his vehicle because it’s been a major part of his life and, he said, it’s the secular religion of America and reaches an enormous amount of people. Ultimately, teams are communities.
“You learn that if you’re going to be an asset to the community, what you really have to do is set aside your own personal goals, wants and ambitions,” Ehrmann said. “Your challenge is to figure out how do you find yourself in the broader concept of the community.”
Ehrmann’s message has a sports basis, but it branches into communication, sociology and psychology. It’s not a pep talk; it’s a strategy directed at building engaged community members.
The athletic prowess, sexual conquest and economic success benchmarks for manhood are a lie, Ehrmann said. This clouds boys’ ideas of what it really means to be a man.
Ehrmann’s ideas also include girls and what it means to be a woman, especially in the face of media imagery of “woman.”
Ehrmann believes girls are raised under three lies: 1) That a “prince charming” will rescue a “worthy” woman and make her life complete; 2) That what it means to be a woman is dependent on beauty and body type; 3) We teach young girls that if they’re going to have their needs met, they somehow have to defer their true selves.
The answer, Ehrmann believes, are relationships and a commitment to a cause.
What kind of father, mother, husband, wife, son and daughter are you? It’s all about relationships, he said. A culture of comparing and competing always destroys the opportunity for community.
Among other things, Ehrmann is defensive coordinator at Baltimore’s Gilman School. Currently, Iowa has two recruits from Gilman committed to scholarships to the UI next fall — Jim Poggi and Anthony Ferguson. The Gazette has contacted and talked with both about football and Iowa. It’s clear there’s more than football going on at Gilman.
“It is the playbook,” Ehrmann said. “You do the X’s and O’s because that’s a part of it, but the thing that binds the cheese is all the other teaching.”
This includes sensitivity training, essays on dating and what how to treat women and, simply put, love.
In sports, the coach is the “high priest” of this. He or she can send this message and build a community, one player at a time. Does Ehrmann bristle when he sees a college coach on TV or in the media who clearly doesn’t understand this role?
“I’m amazed that educational institutions would allow people to represent them in the way that they represent them,” Ehrmann said. “If schools allow that sort of behavior . . . it’s ludicrous. You have to see your sports as part of your educational system. I think coaches need to be held accountable for the educational value of what they’re doing.”
Ehrmann is the subject of the New York Times best-selling book “Season of Life” by Jeffrey Marx. Ehrmann is considered one of the nation’s leading sports educators. Many of his ideas are discussed on his Web site (www.buildingmenandwomen.org).
His “Coach for America” program has this stated mission: “To inform, inspire and initiate individual, communal and societal change that will empower men and women to be their very best — personally, professionally and relationally.”
Ehrmann talked with the Iowa football team Friday (today).