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Activist aims to combat sexual assault by engaging athletes

Associated Press logo Associated Press 3/15/2017 By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
In this Oct. 17, 2016, photo provided by Women Rising, ProtectHer founder Alexis Jones speaks to members of the University of Texas football team, in Austin, Texas. Jones, an author, activist, public speaker and former contestant on the television show "Survivor," has been speaking to college football teams around the country for three years about the treatment of women. Her goal is to rebrand manhood.(Sara Hirsh Bordo/Women Rising via AP) © The Associated Press In this Oct. 17, 2016, photo provided by Women Rising, ProtectHer founder Alexis Jones speaks to members of the University of Texas football team, in Austin, Texas. Jones, an author, activist, public speaker and former contestant on the television show "Survivor," has been speaking to college football teams around the country for three years about the treatment of women. Her goal is to rebrand manhood.(Sara Hirsh Bordo/Women Rising via AP)

Alexis Jones stands in front of a room full of football players and talks about the kind of power that has nothing to do with breaking tackles or throwing touchdown passes.

To combat sexual assault and violence against women, Jones wants to harness what she calls "the power of the jersey."

Jones, an author, activist, public speaker and former contestant on the television show "Survivor," has been speaking to college football teams around the country for three years about the treatment of women.

Her goal is to rebrand manhood.

"It is actually really cool to respect girls today," Jones said earlier this week in a phone interview from Austin, Texas.

At the South By Southwest culture and music festival this week, Jones introduced a documentary film series and curriculum called ProtectHer that college teams can use to educate athletes. She hopes one day it will become a part of NCAA-mandated education for student-athletes. Currently, there is no such thing, though three years ago the NCAA produced a handbook on sexual assault and interpersonal violence as a way for schools to share best practices, data and resources.

The NCAA does not have rules and regulations for how sexual assault cases should be handled, but that could be changing. On the heels of the scandal at Baylor over the school's mishandling of sexual assault allegations against athletes, the NCAA Board of Governors last August asked membership to draft legislation to address sexual violence.

For now, education falls on the schools and athletic programs, and it comes mostly in the form of speakers such as the 33-year-old Jones, a self-described tomboy who grew up with four older brothers in the Austin area.

She has given her talk to football teams at Southern California, her alma mater, UCLA, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and Washington — just to name a few. Her reach extends beyond college sports. She has spoken at the United Nations, NASA Innovation Summit and the Girl Scouts of America.

She founded the nonprofit group I Am That Girl — and wrote a book by the same title — which she calls "a badass version of Girl Scouts for college girls."

She first spoke to football players about sexual assault and treatment of women three years ago when she was invited by her friend, Yogi Roth of the Pac-12 Network, and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer to give a talk to high school prospects competing at Elite 11.

"There's nothing I can teach you, there is nothing I know that is as powerful as what you just learned," Dilfer tells his teenage quarterbacks in the film after they have listened to Jones' talk.

After Jones' presentation at Elite 11 was aired on ESPNU, she started fielding calls from athletic departments across the country. She said she has spent 220 days on the road each of the last three years.

Her talks are blunt, at times funny, and rated R. But she is not accusatory.

"I tend to be inappropriate more often than not and being able to come in and speak their language I think is a real different vibe," Jones said. "Treat people how you want to be treated. So coming in pointing fingers, pointing out all the things they're doing wrong, that wouldn't inspire me. How can we inspire the best versions of them and highlight the incredible guy that's doing this right."

Jones has spent much of life around star athletes, going back to her days at Westlake High School, a football powerhouse. Matt Leinart, the 2004 Heisman Trophy winner, was one of her best friends at USC and she married former Texas basketball player Bradley Buckman.

She believes the star status athletes are given can be used for good: They can be the trendsetters that help cure the "pandemic" of sexual assault.

"Rather than just highlighting the problems, clearly that's not working," Jones said. "Why don't we engage young men and invite them to participate in this conversation and ask them for their help and invite them to be real life heroes?"

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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More college football coverage: http://collegefootball.ap.org/

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