Sport has long been an arena for breaking down differences between players; uniting them over the common goal of winning. Sport has always been bigger than the individual player.
At Grassroots Health (GH), we believe in the transformational power of sport to shatter social norms and promote equity among all players. We seek to advance health equity in cities by using sports to re-imagine health education in middle schools and mobilizing NCAA athletes as health educators and role models for youth. Through a play-based curricula and near-peer model, we facilitate programs around nutrition, sexual health, and mental health. With games like soccer, lacrosse, spikeball, badminton, and others, our programs pull students to be active participants.
Though we have variations of football games, Man Down, Man Down is Grassroots Health’s first game that features football with a play/down style, closest to traditional football, which was highly requested by students. The game includes throwing and catching the football, along with running, and exercises that can be modified for students with different physical abilities.
In this game, one team is given twice as many players as the other. Students on the team with the disadvantage are usually frustrated that they have to work twice as hard to catch the other players, while the team with the advantage feels confident and dominates the game. Football is used to clearly show that in real life, one team would never be given such a huge advantage over the other, but there are certain groups of people that are afforded more privileges, although it might not be so obvious to everyone. We touch on topics such as discrimination based on gender, sex, physical ability, religion, nationality, and many others. This game comes in the first session of our curriculum and is the first time that discrimination is introduced; it is touched on again in a later session.
Grassroots Health incorporates gender and sexuality equity in the fifth session of our Mental Health Promotion curriculum through a relay race activity where facilitators read statements on the topic and participants have to decide whether the statement is fact or nonsense. Fact or Nonsense’s binary answer system is used to signify that although gender and sexuality exist on a spectrum, there are explicit facts about both topics such as statistics concerning stigma and health disparities that cannot be disputed. We share facts that ground our students’ knowledge of gender and sexuality and seek to debunk popular myths that contribute to stigma. Since this topic can be seen as taboo for some, we are respectful to everyone’s personal belief and stick to the facts that are enforced by relevant statistics and public health data. We finish out the session with ways to fight against forms of discrimination and support your mental health. These lessons include: educate and inform those around you about the facts, practice empathy by not contributing to the stigma and negatively impacting others’ mental health, and don’t make assumptions about how people around you may identify – they may identify differently from you and you should be mindful of this.
Breaking down discrimination and pushing for gender equity are two core ideas of the Grassroots Health Mental Health Promotion curricula.
Lara Ocasio is a Program Coordinator for Grassroots Health where she works on the ground connecting with all volunteers and stakeholders to ensure the fidelity of their nutrition, sexual health, and mental health promotion curricula. She is passionate about building community, pursuing equity in all forms, and working in the vibrant DC metropolitan area! Connect with her on LinkedIn!