On Thursday afternoon the Greenwich High School football team had two guest speakers.
Yajaira Gonzalez from the YWCA, talked to the boys about domestic violence, abusive relationships and consent.
Greenwich Police officer Alex Testani, a former football player from Trumbull, talked about having to be role models, the game of football and law enforcement.
Football coach John Marelli said that by chance, had met Officer Testani two years earlier after having accidentally set off an alarm in the building.
Testani told the boys to never be ashamed to ask for help, and not to see his police officer uniform as a barrier.
“There doesn’t have to be a barrier. You’re going to make mistakes or get scared. Be honest about what’s going on. You’re teenagers. There’s a target on your back. You’re football players,” Testani said. “Everybody looks to you, and that’s a good thing. The not so great part is that you have to set the good example, and if you slip up, you’re right under the radar, the microscope.”
“Cherish every moment,” Testani continued.
“That means making the right decisions, hanging out with the right people, looking out for your brothers and learning from other people’s mistakes. And, it means being aware you have that target on your back because you are a leader.,” said the former football player. “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
“The popular thing and the right thing are two completely different choices,” Testani said. “The popular thing is to go to the party. Maybe it’s the wrong place to be, the night before the game.”
“You are all leaders whether you like it or not,” Gonzalez agreed. “Students notice what you do, who you hang out with, and how you act in certain situations. The attention is on you.”
She said the football players have tremendous potential to set good examples and be good role models.
“We’re here to talk about domestic violence, social media, having uncomfortable conversations that you all avoid,” Marinelli said. “There are staggering domestic violence statistics right here in Greenwich.”
Indeed, Gonzalez said that in Greenwich, domestic violence is the second most investigated crime and the number one most violent crime in Greenwich.
“It’s a pretty safe town,” she said. “But for many people, being at home is where they don’t feel safe.”
Gonzalez told the boys that if they don’t become involved in an abusive relationship, the chances are that they will know someone who does.
“Football still reigns in the media, whether in or negative or positive way,” Marinelli said.
The second speaker was Greenwich Police officer Alex Testani, who was also a football player growing up in Trumbull, and at Sacred Heart during college.
Coincidentally, the Cards first football game this year will be against Trumbull and will be played at Sacred Heart.
Ms. Gonzalez talked to the boys about Ezekiel Elliott, whose former girlfriend posted pictures online of multiple bruises on her body and said they were the result of Elliott’s violence toward to her.
Ultimately Elliott was banned from six games. “It’s not just him. There’s a lot of young men – celebrities, athletes, politicians – in prominent roles who are ruining their careers and reputations because of their behavior in their personal lives,” Gonzalez said.
“Domestic violence and social media conversations about it are all around, but we avoid having those difficult conversations,” Marinelli said. “This is something we will continue to do every year because I’m a big believer in his.”
“The way you’re texting – and some of you probably are sexting – In today’s day and age, it’s not easy being a teenager because you have your thumbs,” Marinelli continued with a nod to Ms. Gonzalez.
Coach Marinelli did not mince words. Noting that this was the third year in a row that he had invited in the YWCA to broach the topic of dating violence and abusive relationships, he reminded the boys that all eyes are on them as football players.
Officer Testani agreed. “You have a target on your backs,” he said.
Gonzalez said teens between the ages of 16-24, are three times more likely to be in an abusive relationship.
Gonzalez said that nationally, one in three women, and one in four men, will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lifetime.
She talked to the boys about physical violence and intimidation, saying that too often, men are not thought of as being victims. “Everyone thinks of a woman with a bruised face, getting beat up,” she said.
She said that in addition to physical violence – punching, kicking, slapping to have physical control over your partner – intimidation may be used.
“Physical intimidation is when your partner… when I’m going to argue with you, they punch the wall next to you because they’re so upset, or they block the exit or entryway into the room and say, ‘You’re not leaving until I say we’re done with this conversation.'”
“We’ve heard of situations where the girlfriend will throw things at you, or will break something — that all falls under physical abuse, even though they’re not hitting or punching you,” she said.
Gonzalez also talked about consent.
“It doesn’t have to be awkward, in the moment. Let me give you some tips. You can say, ‘Hey, do you like this? Does this feel good?’ I know it feels awkward. But, when you ask, it shows that you care,” she said.
Gonzalez also talked about threats as examples of emotional abuse. “It may be a threat that, ‘I’m going to hurt myself if you break up with me.’ Or ‘I’m going to hurt you or people you love if you break up with me.'”
Another instance of emotional abuse is isolation, when a partner insists the other person not spending time with friends and family.
“The chances of you leaving someone if you have no other support groups in your life are thin,” she said.
Verbal abuse, including yelling, putting down, or public humiliation are also examples of emotional abuse. “Making you feel you’re so lucky to have this person in your life,” she said.
On the topic of digital abuse, which in an abusive relationship might include one partner wanting to monitor what the other is doing online, making untrue posts, attacking their reputation, posting “revenge porn,” or, in a twist, posting comments to portray themselves as a victim and the actual victim as the abuser.
Another example of digital abuse is when one partner demands to know the victim’s password. “It’s never okay to feel pressure to turn over your password to your partner,” Gonzalez said.
She spoke about the cycle of abuse and three key relationship phases: Honeymoon phase, tension building phase and explosion.
She said that when a relationship moves very, very quickly, maybe its time to ‘pump the breaks.’ She said hopefully the other person will respect that.
“If you’re saying, ‘Hey’ let me hang out with my friends,’ and they’re saying, ‘Don’t you like me? Are you cheating on me?’ And they don’t trust you, that’s not okay. That’s a warning sign that it could lead to an abusive relationship and they may want to control you,” Gonzalez said.
“Maybe you’re at a party and she starts yelling at you, slaps you across the face or starts yelling at you in public. Or maybe she says, ‘You’re hanging out with the wrong person,’ or that he said the wrong thing to her – that’s the explosion. It’s not just physical,” Gonzalez said, adding that in any of these scenarios, the relationship may just end after the explosion.
However, she said, that when the victim offers the abuser a second chance, accepts the apology and the couple returns to the honeymoon phase, often the relationship doesn’t improve but rather gets worse.
Gonzalez said if any of the boys are worried about a friend in an abusive relationship, they should be careful not to criticize, but be supportive and encourage them to get help.
She said the instinct to go after the abuser may likely backfire and result in the victim being abused even more.
She said that teens often feel very alone when they’re in an abusive relationship, but to help them, she suggested offering to call the YWCA’s anonymous hotline.
“You can call together,” she said. “We don’t call the police or send an ambulance to your house. We just talk to you.”
“You guys are leaders and people will be looking up to you to see how you handle situations,” Gonzalez reminded the boys. “Whether you like it or not.”
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