Joe Erhmann Speaks To Avonians About True Masculinity
On Friday, October 16, former NFL player turned minister Joe Erhmann spoke to the Avon Old Farms School community about masculinity, and what it means to be a true, authentic man. The presentation was a part of Avon’s Virtual Family Week, dedicated to bringing students and parents together through insightful conversations.
While many know Joe Erhmann for his performance on the football field, he has received many other important accolades, including: the Arents’ Award, his alma mater Syracuse University’s most distinguished alumni honor; the Ed Block Courage Award; Parade Magazine’s title Most Important Coach in America; the Institute of International Sport’s Most Influential Sports Educators in America; The Baltimore Business Journal’s Renaissance Person of the Decade; National Fatherhood Initiative’s Man of the Year; and the Frederick Douglas National Man of the Year. With all those in hand, he said that there was no audience he’d rather speak to than young men, as they represent the future.
“Fifty years ago, we started to ask all of the right questions as a society: what is the role of race, socio economic class, gender, and sexual orientation, as it speaks to the inherent value of each person,” he said. “But, today, we still don’t have the answers. But I believe that your generation has those answers.”
Reaching those answers, however, Joe believes depends upon the young men of America taking to heart a new definition of masculinity: one young men write for themselves, not the one that society has been pushing on them since they were young boys.
“The three scariest words a is ever told he hears when he’s five, six, seven, or eight years old: be a man,” he shared. “I want you all to think about the context of when you first heard those words. I’ve found that it’s always in the midst of some emotional upheaval: when you were upset, emotional, or vulnerable. You then learned at that young age to become embarrassed by your emotions. That ends up restricting who you are as men.”
Erhmann continued to ask Avonians to think about who they were and how they would have described themselves as people before they were told to conform to what society told them to be as a man.
“Each of us came into the world with our own essence and our own concept of how to connect with others, but as we go through life it gets distorted by today’s culture and what it means to be a man,” Erhmann said. “My own essence as a child could be described in three words: kindness, gentleness, and compassion. However, throughout much of my own adolescence and into my early football career, I stepped away from that true essence and grabbed onto the facade of what society told me it was to be a man.”
Erhmann continued to lay out three concepts he believes are lies about masculinity that boys today must actively seek to correct:
Masculinity is associated with your physical ability to compete.
Masculinity was validated around your ability to dominate or conquest women.
Masculinity is measured by economic success.
“As we go through life, we pick up all kinds of messages about not being enough if we do excel in these areas. And when you feel like you’re not enough, you start acquiring a second nature, an ego to defend yourself. You start conforming. But, when who you were born to be does not align with how you act, the divide leaves us feeling lost and confused.”
He then laid out what happens if young men today do not actively seek to quiet the voice inside their head that society has placed there: they turn to isolation, substance abuse, and violence as coping mechanisms.
Erhmann’s answer is this: You have to get back to who you truly are, who you were born to be with a purpose for being on this Earth.
For Erhmann, this realization came after he lost his younger brother to a five-month battle with cancer. Sinking into despair, he realized that everything he had accomplished in life did not help him save his brother, and gave him no answers as to why he was here.
“I was 29 years old, and I had no concept of what life was about. I came to see that my whole sense of self was distorted. Nothing made sense for me. Then, I read Viktor E. Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning.”
In that book, Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” After reading that, Erhmann began to explore himself more deeply and began his journey to getting back to the man he was meant to be, by choosing his own way. Today, he dedicates his life to helping other men choose their own way back.
“In today’s world, we see lots of good examples of bad masculinity. I’ve had several parents ask, ‘Who is an example of good masculinity?’ Mr. Ehrmann is right at the top of that list,” commented Head of School Jim Detora. “We all have work to do. It’s important in today’s world. We need leaders who understand true masculinity and can help guide today’s young men on their own journey to their own definition of masculinity. We at Avon are dedicated to doing that work.”