As a runningback with the B.C. Lions, Jeremiah Johnson runs through and over 300-pound linebackers trying to knock him out with extreme force. Every play contains a touch of controlled violence and ends up a train wreck if you will.
As a speaker with the Lions’ Be More Than A Bystander program, Johnson urges young people to break the silence on violence against women. He finds that topic much tougher than avoiding tackles on the football field.
He opened the 45-minute presentation Tuesday morning at Vernon Secondary School by quietly revealing how his wife, Shanel, was a victim of rape by one of her family members.
“I get emotional about this because it’s near and dear to my heart,” he said.
“I told my wife I would get nervous talking about this, but she said ‘I think you should do it.’ Her well-being is at the top of my list. If I reach one person in this audience, I’ve done my job. We’re not here to demonize you guys but the stats show that males are the main cause of these heinous crimes against women.”
Johnson, 31, is a marquee running back with the Canadian Football League team. The Oregon Ducks grad and Los Angeles product rang up a dozen touchdowns last season, including nine rushing scores on 913 yards. He has a young daughter, Jordan, and is more interested and troubled by the stats off the field.
Those stats show that one in three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. The 15-24 age group lists the highest number of assaults.
Johnson and defensive back Matt Bucknor told students that violence against women can include dating wrongs, touching without consent, stalking, cyber bullying, catcalls, inappropriate or cruel jokes and texting. Any situation whereby the woman feels uncomfortable can be sexual harassment.
“We know you aren’t doing this, but maybe someone you know is,” said Johnson, “We want to give you a platform where you can say, ‘I learned something and what you’re doing is not right.’”
Johnson stressed how touching a female without consent is harassment.
“Consent is ongoing and it can be withdrawn at any time. Consent is not valid if the person is drunk, on drugs or unconscious. If that happens, the male should exit stage left. Being drunk is a not a defence.”
Tyler Gammon of the Lions Community Relations department showed some public service announcements and TV clips on the issue. He showed a light-hearted message featuring stick figures offering a cup of tea as a analogy to asking a female for sex.
“Unconscious people don’t want tea,” said the announcer, bringing light laughter from the students.
Students saw Lions head coach Wally Buono break down and cry as he spoke of having to deal with a violent incident on his mother’s behalf.
“Who here has three women they love in their lives?” asked Bucknor.
Most students raised their hands and Bucknor said he thinks about his mom, sister and two nieces when discussing the tough topic.
“We can do something about it,” said Bucknor, a 32-year-old out of Hamilton. “There are 1,000 assaults every week. We have to stand with women, not against them.”
The University of Windsor Lancers grad said it takes courage and smart decisions to help end the violence. He noted that 800,000 children in Canada witness violence against a woman.
“That’s a big number and they think it’s OK as they grow up.”
Bucknor also noted there are 1,100 Indigenous women in B.C. either missing or murdered and that 83 per cent of women living with disabilities have been victims of violence.
He said a bystander is a person who sees or knows someone who is acting abusively and doesn’t do anything. He noted that attitudes that women can’t be CEOs or presidents, but belong in the kitchen, only fuel the violence.
Grade 10 student Lexie Pearson, wearing an Oregon hoodie much to Johnson’s delight, joined the two Lions in a demonstration on what constitutes inappropriate touching.
The Lions urged students who know a male behaving in ways demeaning women to approach them and refer them to professionals for counselling.
Bucknor said the notion that “Oh, she deserved it because she was wearing a certain outfit” is way off base. He noted that just because a bank has zillions of dollars doesn’t mean it deserves to get robbed.
Be More Than A Bystander is one of five programs the Lions run as they seek to touch the lives of B.C. communities in a positive way. The Lions have won the Grey Cup six times, the last coming in 2011.