‘Be More Than a Bystander’ – the tagline says it all. The Canadian Football League’s BC Lions have had an active, high visibility and multimedia-encompassing campaign against domestic violence since 2011. Yes, that’s right – 3 years and counting. How do I know this? Because they have been – true to their name – loud about it. And authentic (buzzword though it is, in this case highly applicable). More than a dozen players, front office staff, head coach and GM all giving voice to this important topic. The BC Lions didn’t hesitate when approached by the Ending Violence Association to front this public service campaign. And they could have.
- Their primary business is football.
- They worked hard to rebuild a franchise that was at death’s door 10 years ago, in a league that was fading from relevancy.
- Their players are the guys who are so grateful to have an opportunity to play professional football that they aren’t likely to risk that dream with questionable offtime behavior – in fact, they are more likely to hold a second job so they can prolong that dream.
- Many of their fans come from Vancouver’s tougher areas and from cultural backgrounds where women’s status lags the norm in North America – they risked alienating a substantial portion of their fan base.
In short, they could have looked the other way and gone about the business of shoring up the franchise. They could have looked the other way and not risked raising the subject with a potentially less than receptive audience. They could have looked the other way. But they didn’t.
They embraced a campaign in a substantive, comprehensive and persistent way. They gave it substance – no less than a dozen players and staff have joined the campaign as spokespeople. And with tools – exactly what to say in the uncomfortable situation of stepping in. GM Wally Buono cited Chad Johnson’s domestic abuse history as being inconsistent with the Lions’ values, and as one reason the club wasn’t interested in signing the Bengal formerly known as Ochocinco. The players themselves have stated they are genuinely disturbed by recent events and don’t accept this behaviour as acceptable in “the brotherhood of football”.
They made it comprehensive – the message has come through on TV, on radio, in print, on the field, in locker rooms and in schools. They have been persistent – the message has been part of their communications and actions since 2011. According to Ending Violence Association, the campaigns first 2 years’ reach is conservatively estimated at 80 million impressions. While the ‘Be More Than a Bystander’ campaign is indeed a partnership, with the foundation provided by Ending Violence Association (BC) and critical funding from the Province of BC and Encana, a resource company, it is the BC Lions who have been the face and the voice of the issue. It is the BC Lions who put themselves on the front line. And it is the BC Lions whose voice resonates in homes, whose players are admired and more importantly, are the ones whom young boys and men would like to emulate. How fortunate for the Vancouver community that they have taken this on with their whole heart and their full voice. Should the NFL look to this noble example, perhaps the cumulative voices on this issue will crescendo to a roar.