MASSENA - Be who you are, not who others think you should be, and dont fall into the trap of labeling others based on pre-conceived notions, Joe Ehrmann told an auditorium packed full of Massena High School students Monday.
The first screen of a multimedia presentation gave the students a glimpse of what Mr. Ehrmann would be discussing. It asked, Who are you? Why are you here? What do you stand for? Who will you stand with?
Mr. Ehrmann has been visiting the north country as part of National Crime Victims Right Week, speaking to coaches and athletic directors Sunday evening, the Massena High School students Monday morning and at a public event Monday evening. His visit is sponsored by Renewal House, Catholic Charities and the United Way of Northern New York.
Its a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful experience for you. Its a great opportunity to be thinking about who you are as a person and where you are going in life, Mr. Farrand said.
He noted that Mr. Ehrmanns presentation tied in with the work done at the school by the former Safety and Drug-Free Advisory Council and the schools Safety Team.
Mr. Ehrmanns focus, according to Robert D. Gorman, chief executive officer of the United Way of Northern New York, was our relationships and the way in which we treat and talk to other people.
Joe has been very much involved in a lot of things going on in the NFL, Mr. Gorman said, including a clinic with the Chicago Bears last week.
The NFL isnt immune to bullying, he said, citing an incident in Miami in which Dolphin Jonathan Martin was bullied in the locker room. Mr. Martin quit the team over the incident.
A 300-pound man gave up his job, career, salary and prestige, threw it all away because he was being bullied. If a 300-pound man, a professional athlete, cant take it, what kind of hope does a high school kid have? What chance do any of us have if that person cant take it? Mr. Gorman said.
Mr. Ehrmann said it was up to the students of today to change attitudes in the future. He said work on tackling issues such as race and gender began in the 1960s, but the effort was still on-going to eliminate racism and sexism.
I think, as a nation, we started to ask all the right questions (in the 1960s). They still havent been answered at this time. I think its going to be under your leadership. Every one of you is a leader, according to Mr. Ehrmann, an All-American football player at Syracuse University and 13-year NFL veteran who spent most of his time with the then-Baltimore Colts.
As a member of the Colts, he said, they were a team and not a mix of men from different backgrounds.
Every summer 53 men came together. They were brown, black and white. Every year they created a community called a team, Mr. Ehrmann said.
Unfortunately, he said, the world didnt work that way, and sometimes its because of the way people were brought up. As people move through life, he said, theyre taught to judge someone else - or theyre judged - on attributes such as their physical appearance.
He said that a young boy might at some point be told, Be a man! But societys definition of a man and reality arent on the same page, Mr. Ehrmann said, outling the three myths of masculinity that are fed to each and every young man.
One of them is a childs athletic ability.
That is an absolute lie. Being a man has nothing to do with athletic ability, he said. On the playground, 8- and 9-year-olds are already mandated to be a man, but theres one boy just outside the box. Thats what happened with the Dolphins. They decided who belonged and who didnt belong, he said.
The second lie, he said, the sexual conquest - to bring some girl alongside and use her.
That makes you a user of other human beings, Mr. Ehrmann said.
Men are also judged by their economic success, although it has no bearing on how much of a man they are, he said.
That too is a fundamental lie, he said.
Its up to each male to define what kind of a man you are, Mr. Ehrmann said. You have to seek the truth for your own understanding.
There are also myths associated with femininity, according to Mr. Ehrmann, who has been an educator, author, activist, pastor and coach for more than 25 years. One myth is that worthy women will be rescued by Prince Charming.
If youre thin enough and pretty enough, some man will come and sweet you off your feet, he said.
Another myth, he said, is the beauty and body type defined by marketing and media companies.
But those arent what really matter, he said, noting that when a person dies, its not their awards or achievements that will be remembered, but rather how they were able to love and be loved.
Its the heart that defines what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman, Mr. Ehrmann said.
Others would also remember what a person had done to make the world a better place.
We have a responsibility to make the world a better place. What is the legacy youre going to leave? he asked.