“For us, coaching for Westinghouse and coaching for Homewood, this side of town, you’re not just a coach anyway. We don’t get the luxury to come down here and just blow our whistles,” Monte Robinson laughed. As he prepared the team for a non-conference game the following day, the charismatic head football coach of the Westinghouse Bulldogs took some time to talk to Pittsburgh Current on the sidelines of the humid, buggy practice field down the hill from the classical revival-style high school.
Game-planning and strategy may be what draws other men to coaching, but not Robinson. He loves the really personal aspect. “You’re like a social worker and counselor by default. This is not the program where you’re just going to come down here and coach technique. That’s not happening down here, if you’re looking for that,” he said.
Coach Te, as his players call him, fully understands the pivotal part coaches can play in the lives of young people. Hired on as an assistant in 2006, Robinson became the head coach in 2008. He always talked to his kids about anything and everything that might be on their minds. His formula is simply that if you help the kids with academics, with their relationships and with wellness, the on the field stuff will take care of itself.
In 2016 he introduced the ‘Coaching Boys into Men’ program to his football team. CBIM is a nationwide, in-depth curriculum for coaching young athletes. It was developed in 2005 by Futures Without Violence, a San Francisco area group, with the input of hundreds of athletes and coaches.
The program helps coaches mentor their students and talk with them about insulting behavior, sexual consent, respect for women and girls, social media behavior, domestic violence and personal responsibility.
Westinghouse Football is the first of the Pittsburgh Public Schools athletic programs to sign on with the CBIM curriculum and Robinson is a believer in its effect. He has talked to the coaches at both Alderdice and USO (University Prep/Sci-Tech/Obama Academy, which is sometimes referred to as U-Prep) and is hopeful they will adopt the model as well.
Robinson grew up here himself. He is a product of Westinghouse and Homewood. He and his twin brother, Ramon Robinson helped the team to win back-to-back city championships in 1992 and 1993. Ramon quarterbacked those teams and is now the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs.
Even before adopting the CBIM program, Robinson didn’t shy away from fostering open conversations with his kids. He had small gatherings of coaches and players that he called ‘Men of the House’ meetings where they “… just talked about issues dealing with black males in the community — kicking stuff around. We talked about drugs, sex, violence, race. It was just an open discussion.”
Some of those experiences are specific to Westinghouse. The student body is nearly 100 percent African-American and 81 percent of the students come from economically challenged homes, per the data provided by Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Many coaches may not want to tackle discussions of sexual violence, but it is impossible to ignore the frequent stories of sexual abuse and violence committed by athletes at all levels. Few stories drew as much attention as the Steubenville rape case in 2012 and the assault committed by Stanford swimmer, Brock Turner in 2015. Turner’s victim, ‘Emily Doe’ read a stunning victim impact statement at trial that has been read more than 11 million times, according to USA Today. And the national media swarmed to Steubenville after a 16-year-old girl was raped by two football players at a party.
What the stories share is that both victims were unconscious or incapacitated when they were assaulted. The cases spurred long-overdue discussions on both college and high school campuses about sexual assault and what constitutes consent.
Robinson is a licensed counselor (he has a private practice at the Nuin Center in Highland Park) and he understands that discussions about sexuality, consent and violence are uncomfortable, troublesome waters for many coaches. The beauty of the CBIM program is that it provides an opening. It gives coaches a place to start discussions with their players. “The cards do a good job with tying it together. There are lessons from the field and they bring it full circle around character development and domestic violence prevention. Coaches have a template to go off.”
Seventeen-year-old Willie Knight, a Westinghouse senior from Lincoln says that he feels like it’s helped him to mature. It’s not that kids don’t think about these things, but they don’t really have a safe forum to ask questions, express themselves and be exposed to different ways of thinking. “It was brand new because I’ve never had experience talking about anything like that. But it was good. It was awkward at first, but I got used to it,” Knight said towards the end of practice.
What if somebody had stopped those players in Steubenville? What if, at some point in high school or college, a coach or teammate had talked to Brock Turner about consent? And what if those discussions were held in a setting and context that allowed for real growth?
This is precisely the value of CBIM, according to Robinson. “They have to learn to talk to each other with respect. We start there. When something goes wrong on the field — how do you respond to that? Do you go and cuss out your teammate? Do you belittle him? Or how could you handle that differently? Then how does that transfer into the building? When you’re talking to one of your female classmates and it’s not going so well. How does that work? What do you say? Learn how to walk away. And learn how to, if you see one of your teammates out of line and being disrespectful, learn how to check them. We have to learn how to hold each other accountable.”
Jody DiPerna is a Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.