Building champions: Niagara-based program seeks to give athletes life skills needed to succeed

Rick Pfeiffer, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
·5 min read

Feb. 20—A Wilson woman who has built a career as an authority on sexual harassment, gender equality, discrimination and misconduct, is about to kick-off an ambitious new project that looks to provide athletes, both students and professionals, with the tools they need to "address every social issue they may confront."

The program, known as Champion Conduct, is beginning developed by Kathleen Neville and aims to bring conduct and character-building lessons to competitors at the high school, collegiate and professional level from some of the biggest names in sports.

Neville, an author and longtime consultant to the National Football League, who helped create the league's first workplace guidelines on conduct and sexual harassment, said she has been focused on education and awareness and helping those in sports to develop "the tools they need to be authentic and to be role models."

Champion Conduct will initially be available as a mobile app, featuring cinematic videos of athletes sharing their candid insights on social issues, real-life challenges and charitable activities. Neville has been working to assemble an all-star line-up of contributors including former Buffalo Bill Troy Vincent Sr., an All Pro cornerback and now the NFL's executive vice president of football operations; former Pittsburgh Steelers tight-end and current pro scout Mark Bruener, and other current and former athletes and coaches from across the sports landscape, including gold-medal Olympians, Hall of Famers, as well as topic experts and survivors of misconduct.

"I've done very successful programs at all levels," Neville said. "And when I got involved with the NFL, Troy was very tuned-in to the development of youth and prep athletes as well as active and retired players."

Added Vincent, "I've seen it all as a player, executive and advocate. Firsthand, I have watched others come to grips with the consequences of their actions. Being part of this project allows me to give back not only to those in sports, but also to youth in communities across the country. It allows me to be part of something bigger that teaches up-and-comers what it means to be a champion—advice that will change lives for the better."

Vincent said the opportunity to be a contributor to character development for athletes "is always a worthwhile endeavor."

"As athletes move through their athletic life cycle, both on and off the field of play, they face many challenges and opportunities," he said. "The goal is to contribute meaningful input to personal life skills, values and character development based on the body of my work, my experiences as an athlete, an entrepreneur and an executive as it relates to leadership and service to others."

Pro franchises, NCAA programs, high school athletic departments, and coaches at all levels will be able to license or subscribe to Champion Conduct beginning in late 2021. Neville said she's hopeful the app will be embraced by coaches at all levels because she sees them as "influencers."

"Coaches build champions on the field. We are building champions in life," Neville said. "This app provides the inspiring, gritty, first-person stories that competitors respond to—it's everything they need to know about conduct in one place, as told by experts, sports stars and survivors."

Content and technology for the Champion Conduct platform are being developed in partnership with Rochester Institute of Technology's MAGIC Spell Studios, a multidisciplinary research and production hub that encourages students from the university's nationally ranked programs from the School of Film and Animation, the School of Interactive Games and Media, and the School of Design to collaborate and push the boundaries of technology, art and design.

"This is an exciting project for MAGIC Spell Studios," RIT MAGIC Spell Studios Director David Long said. "We are bringing the Champion Conduct platform to life through the mobile app, and our students are getting professional experience producing meaningful video content. We can be proud knowing that athletes are bettering themselves—learning to be more character-driven, community-minded, and socially aware—through our work."

Neville said the program will send a strong message that what athletes do off the field matters as much as what they do on it.

"How we treat people matters," she said. "We're all human. We all make mistakes. We're not perfect. This program isn't about being perfect. It's about being authentic and mindful."


What the app will provide:

—The Locker Room: featuring firsthand accounts from those who have been subjected to harmful or hateful conduct. Coaches, experts, survivors of assault, and victims of discrimination will drive home the idea that conduct is personal and powerful—and can have lifelong effects. Champion Conduct students will gain a deeper understanding of issues involving social injustice; diversity, equity and inclusion; bullying; domestic violence; sexual assault and harassment; gender and implicit bias; and more.

—The Film Room: featuring coachable moments from former and active players. Off-field challenges, game-changing personal victories, the real-life consequences of poor decisions and addiction—it's all on the table. Champion Conduct students will be inspired to look back, look within, and look ahead as they work to be their best.

—The Game Room: featuring episodes on media training, public speaking, social media presence, leadership, brand promotion, being a responsible influencer, hiring effective advisors, and tips from pro scouts on what character traits they look for in a student-athlete. Champion Conduct students will gain a valuable playbook to represent their personal brands and tackle compensation opportunities—such as brand sponsorships—that may arise during their careers.

—The Community Room: featuring episodes on the impact of giving back. By learning from successful philanthropic athletes, Champion Conduct students will come away with information on how to get involved with respected causes and nonprofits, as well as the know-how to develop and manage a foundation. The Community Room will also provide a space for any approved nonprofit organization, allowing student-athletes to find and connect with the cause that is right for them.

—The Training Room: coming in 2022, which will contain customized content that would address the specific needs or areas of focus of a university, athletic department or team.