Sports and Dating Abuse. Is There a Connection?

It's that time of year when the focus for thousands of young men in middle and high school has returned to the football field. They gather in schools across the country with one thing in mind -- a run for their state championship. However, for one Texas varsity football team, the focus on the first day of practice was a little different.

The varsity football team from Skyline High School, one of the largest high schools in Dallas, huddled with experts from the National Domestic Violence Hotline and loveisrespect, the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation and Mary Kay, Inc., to discuss how to prevent and end dating abuse -- an epidemic that affects one in three American teens. Surrounded by their coaches, more than 60 young men opened up about the challenges they face in today's dating environment and shared their personal experiences with dating abuse.

Can sports play a role in teaching young men how to have healthy relationships and end dating abuse? The short answer -- yes.

Studies show that one in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. They also reveal that only 33 percent of teens who were in a violent relationship ever told anyone about the abuse. Every day advocates at loveisrespect hear from young women seeking help with their partner's controlling and abusive behavior. It is not often that they hear from young men, but it does not mean that they do not have something to say on the issue.

At the huddle student-athletes -- some standing over six feet tall -- talked about being hit by their intimate partners and being publicly humiliated in front of their peers. They candidly discussed other complex issues including how to avoid reacting with violence when faced with verbal or physical attacks by their partners. The young men also asked about the warning signs of an unhealthy or abusive relationship and how to break up without causing "drama." Having healthy relationships is important to these young men and many others like them.

In a time when headlines focus on athletes' off-the-field behavior, many coaches are moving beyond discussing Xs and Os. They are teaming up with dating abuse and healthy relationship experts to create opportunities where teens feel comfortable opening up about issues that directly affect them. We all have a responsibility to support coaches in their efforts and continue the conversation outside of the locker room. When someone approaches us about their relationships, our natural instinct is to help in any way can. Our desire to help can drive us to react quickly, and sometimes what feels like the right thing to do can stop a conversation before it begins. By listening without judgment and being supportive, we can help young men and women know that they are not alone.

Anyone who believes that a young person is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship should encourage him or her to a trusted friend or adult about the situation. Concerned friends and loved ones can also encourage teens and young adults who have witnessed or experienced dating violence to get help or learn more by visiting,, calling 866-331-9474 or texting "loveis" to 22522. Loveisrespect provides real-time, one-on-one support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.