When Joe Ehrmann, coach, pastor, activist, and retired NFL lineman, received a lifetime achievement award at a national conference on sports culture and domestic and sexual violence recently, he cried. Not a surprise for a man known for being courageous enough to be vulnerable, even in front of several hundred people. In the tributes below from colleagues who have collaborated with Joe for decades—and in his own words—it is easy to understand who this kindhearted soul is: a man who believes that expressing love and being of service to others are among the highest acts men can aspire to achieve in their lives, actions that celebrate their full humanity. Voice Male feels fortunate to have Joe’s clear voice and vision in our pages. —Rob Okun
Joe Ehrmann has long believed that coaches are responsible for nurturing their players’ character—who they are on the inside, not just how they appear to others on the outside. As part of his message, he challenges coaches to take moral responsibility for the roles they play in educating boys. “If sports were a religion, coaches would be the high priests,” he said at the two-day sports culture and violence conference in Charlotte, N.C., in September. Organized by A CALL TO MEN, a national organization working to prevent men’s violence, the gathering challenged participants to dig deeper in thinking about male behavior, including facing hard truths about male violence. Ehrmann’s warmth, compassion, and honesty shone like a bright light of hope and possibility throughout.
The way young boys are socialized—to be dominant and controlling—has negative, often violent, consequences for individuals and for society, Ehrmann believes. The power of coaches, he says, is their ability to transform their players, not just on the field, but in their lives. Instead of shaming players for showing weakness or not performing as well as the coach hoped, Ehrmann says coaches should offer hugs and affirm their players’ sadness and pain. Why? Because as long as boys are taught to value only stereotyped expressions of conventional masculinity—athletic performance, sexual conquest, and economic success—they will be less likely to love and help others. Love and a commitment to helping others, Ehrmann says, are necessary not only for developing healthy manhood, but for building a world that’s fair to all of humanity.
The lifetime achievement award was presented to Ehrmann by conference organizers, A CALL TO MEN, along with Mentors in Violence Prevention, Men Can Stop Rape, Men Stopping Violence, and the National Football League. At the end of the first day of the gathering, representatives of those organizations took turns praising a tearful Ehrmann for his efforts to transform the culture of sports and to promote healthy masculinities.
Ehrmann believes that being a man is defined in two ways: “One is our capacity to love and to be loved. Masculinity ought to be defined in terms of relationships. Second, it ought to be defined by commitment to a cause. Each of us has a responsibility to give back, to make the world more fair, more just, more hospitable for every human being.”
Joe Ehrmann on the Two Kinds of Coaches
“There are two kinds of coaches in America: transactional and transformational. Transactional coaches basically use young people for their own identity, their own validation, their own ends. It’s always about them… Transformational coaches understand the power, the platform, the position they have in the lives of young people, and use their station to change the arc of every young person’s life. Team sports are an ideal place to help boys become men. The great myth in America today is that sports builds character. That’s not true in a win-at-all-costs culture. Sports don’t build character unless the coach models it, nurtures it and teaches it.”
Praise from Colleagues
Joe is an exceptional contributor to our field, but it is his personal touch that has always stood out to me. Joe exemplifies inside-out leadership, and has the uncanny ability to make everyone he is with feel special. He is a selfless man who lives a life for others better than anyone I know. It is an honor to know him and call him friend.
Director, Mentors in Violence Prevention National
Joe Ehrmann is a man among men. His strength, courage, leadership, and love have been an inspiration in our lives and in the work of A CALL TO MEN. He has been a leader in the work of developing young men of character for more than two decades. We agree with Joe that the more we increase healthy, respectful, loving manhood the more we decrease violence against women and girls. On a personal note Joe has been a mentor for more than 15 years. We’re honored whenever we’re in his presence, and privileged to call him our friend.
Tony Porter, Ted Bunch
Cofounders, A CALL TO MEN
Joe Ehrmann exemplifies the old adage that true leadership is displayed both on and off the field—especially off the field. His hard-won wisdom and genuine humility are truly remarkable, and an enduring gift to us all.
Director, MVP Strategies
Joe Ehrmann is a gentle giant, a gladiator who returned from the wars to expose how our lifelong preparation for battle does such damage to boys, men, women, and society. His life’s work is as resonant, deep and sonorous as his masterful voice. I admire him enormously.
Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities
Joe Ehrmann is “a man’s man.” Not in the traditional sense of the phrase often used to describe hegemonic, hypermasculine, cis men. Joe is manly in the most progressive, most positive, most powerful sense of the word. He is kind, loving, vulnerable, open, compassionate, self-reflective, and brutally honest about the constrictions placed on American masculinity. He’s made a choice to reject those constrictions in favor of becoming fully human. And by choosing to express the full range of humanity, Joe models inner confidence, and strength. Joe Ehrmann has redefined what it means to be a man. As men, we should aspire to do the same.
Director, Hazing: How Badly Do You Want In? Joe Ehrmann embodies what men can say and do to make a difference. I especially appreciate how he has effectively used his microphone to speak truth to power—to challenge individual and institutional practices that oppress women.
Executive Director, Men Stopping Violence
I am inspired by Joe Ehrmann. I love that his humility and kindness are the foundations of his work serving others. Men Can Stop Rape is honored to call him a friend and we thank him for all he does to make the world a better place for everyone.
Men Can Stop Rape