B.C. Lions tackle emotional subject at Vernon Secondary School
The first thing J.R. LaRose wanted to do, as an eight-year-old child who had just watched his mother thrown down a flight of stairs by an unknown man, was grab a knife from the kitchen and protect his mom.
The starting safety for the B.C. Lions football team shared his emotional story at an assembly in front of a packed student body and staff at Vernon Secondary School Thursday morning, part of the Lion’s Be More Than A Bystander presentation, a program designed to help end the silence on violence against women.
“We were at a family friend’s house in Edmonton, a bunch of people were over, and I can remember sitting in the living room and hearing a commotion coming from upstairs,” said LaRose, joined by 13-year CFL veteran centre and Lions’ captain Angus Reid.
“I was a curious kid so I went toward the staircase and I remember one of the voices yelling was my mother’s. I saw this man grab my mom and throw her down the stairs. My initial reaction, as an eight-year-old kid, was to run to the kitchen and grab a knife. All I wanted to do was protect my mom. I did not want to see my mom hurt.”
As he grew older, LaRose – who turns 30 on Feb. 27 – made a vow that he would not be a bystander if he saw such a thing again, or saw someone being bullied.
It was a no-brainer, he said, for him to get involved with the program the Lions started three years ago. LaRose, Reid and other members of the team spend their off-season touring the province, encouraging students to become leaders and help end violence against women.
Reid told the assembly how he and LaRose work in the ultimate male environment as football players. They work with 50 guys, lift weights and “eat steak all day.”
Reid said his motivation for the program was selfish.
“My wife had a friend who wanted me to introduce her to some of the single guys on the team. So we went out for dinner, a bunch of us, and the friend called the wife and said she had a great time and was on a cloud,” said Reid, whose six-year older brother, Malcolm, is the principal at VSS.
“In the locker room, guys were starting to talk about her in a negative light, making jokes and comments about her.
“I didn’t want these jokes and comments to occur, and if my wife found out that I knew it was going on and did nothing about it, I would be in trouble,” said Reid, 37. “So I did something about this. I told the guys, ‘look, this is not going to happen while I’m around.’”
Added LaRose: “We said to the guys, ‘what if they were talking about your sister or your mother. Would you like that?’”
In the pair’s 45-minute presentation, students and staff were shown videos which included statistics such as in B.C. every week, there are more than 1,000 physical or sexual assaults against women; one in three women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime; women under 25 experience the highest rates of domestic violence; and, a study from Ontario showed that students prone to the highest recorded statistics of dating violence are in Grade 9 and 10.
The football stars said the Be More Than A Bystander program boils down to leadership.
“This is about you becoming leaders, you taking charge of the classes you’re in, school you’re in, community you’re in and making it better, making it safer for everyone,” said Reid. “We all raised our hands when asked if we thought every woman that’s out there is important to somebody.”
After the presentation, LaRose and Reid talked for half-an-hour with Mike Sawka’s media and student voice classes about taking their message forward.
Sawka said the students would likely produce a public service announcement commercial which Reid said the Lions would play on their website.
The Lions’ presentation impressed Grade 11 student Shaughn Davoren.
“It was pretty inspiring, we learned a lot here,” said Davoren. “We’ll take a lot away from it and make our school a much safer place.”
Brooke McLardy and Stephanie Mortenson from the Vernon Women’s Transition House Society were also on-hand for the assembly.
Both thought the message coming from two professional football players made a big impact on the student body.
“They did a great job,” said McLardy, program director with the society. “They’re inspirational, and it’s a great message for children and youth that it’s not cool to sit by and watch violent acts to other people in our society, but to stand up and make a difference.”
Malcolm Reid has watched his younger brother be presented with the Grey Cup and speak on other topics to schools, but nothing impressed him more than the Be More Than A Bystander message.
“I can say I’ve never been prouder of my brother,” said Reid. “For the first time ever, Angus, you feel like my bigger brother.”
Reid and LaRose also gave their presentation to the staff and students of Fulton Secondary.