Winning. That’s what matters most – at least that’s what I imagine former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Joe Ehrmann believed while playing in the NFL early in his career. And then tragedy struck. On the same year he played in the Pro Bowl, Joe’s brother Billy lost his life to cancer. Following Billy’s death, his life’s purpose, a purpose bigger than football, became more clear. Coaching individuals to become successful in their own lives through empowerment and meaningful behavior change became his vocation.
NPR published an interview with Joe, “The 3 Scariest Words a Boy Can Hear” just recently, which will catalyze provocative and thoughtful discussions on the effect of male cultural norms. Joe and his wife Paula have built a life around reframing cultural norms in order to guide males to healthy emotional development, leading to successful lives and relationships. Through seminars, workshops and keynote speeches, he is shedding the light on the issue.
Not long after his brother’s death, this towering 6’5 and muscular 260 pound man reflected on what it meant to be a man. Phrases like “suck it up” and “man up” were no help for a man who was struggling with the emotions of his brother’s recent passing. He knew what he needed during this time of grief – love and nurturing – but he wasn’t instilled with the emotional tools to cope with its burdens. Nor was it present in his current environment – the NFL locker room (its culture described recently by Connor Barwin).
According to Joe, there are 3 lies on masculinity perpetuated by social media to young and adolescent boys: athletic ability, economic success and sexual conquest. His work engages efforts to reframe and redefine the messages our society feeds to young and adolescent boys. In his view, a man is defined by two things: his ability to love and be loved and his commitment to a cause. A leader by example, Joe Ehrmann truly is “winning at life.”