Footballers are often negatively portrayed by the media, stereotyped as being reckless and morally questionable—unfit, some would say, to be role models to young, impressionable people.
From the Ched Evans rape conviction, to Luis Suarez and John Terry being involved in incidents of racial abuse, the case for footballers being good role models is becoming increasingly difficult to make. Not all footballers are the same, of course, but it’s easy to see why many feel there is a somewhat nasty undercurrent to the culture of the game.
Jeb Brovsky, New York City FC’s attacking full-back, is certainly doing his best to challenge any negative preconceptions people may have of footballers. Educated at Notre Dame university, Brovsky graduated with a BA in Business Management and International Peace Studies, and upon leaving decided to set up Peace Pandemic, a charity aimed at using football to stamp out violence around the world.
The remit of the charity soon changed, though, focusing more specifically on trying to stop violence towards women, an issue close to Brovsky’s heart.
“I set it up while I was at university,” he said, during a preseason training camp at Manchester City’s new academy facility. “Basically, it was an accumulation of my passions: football and helping young people marginalised in society—a lot of orphans and under-privileged children.
"My wife joined me later on, helping me out, so we went to India and Guatemala, and the original focus was teaching football with the message of non-violence, but then it really morphed and narrowed into non-violence towards women, and so that is where we’re going with the entire organisation.
“For me, it’s about the way we raise young boys in society. Obviously, you want to take care of women who have been battered and beaten, but let’s prevent that from even happening, let’s raise better men and, for the girls, let’s teach them that they can actually be something in life.
"I think football is a good medium for that. It’s a good medium for a lot of things, but boys grow up thinking it’s a man’s world. If you’re a professional footballer, I think you have a platform to speak and say to these young boys there’s also a life outside of football. That’s what we try to do and hopefully it keeps continuing to grow."
Brovsky was impacted by violence at a young age, none more so than the harrowing events at Columbine High School, which happened near to where he grew up. Experiences like that, as well as the knowledge and interest he cultivated whilst studying, led to him to where he is now, with Peace Pandemic clearly a very important aspect of his life.
He feels there’s a macho image surrounding a lot of sports that propagates the wrong message, leading to young, impressionable boys who idolise athletes objectifying and undervaluing women.
“I think in every society there’s a view of professional athletes as stars that are almost untouchable, that make millions of dollars, they can get any girl they want, they can drive any car they want, and I think that’s skewed—especially in Major League Soccer, because if you watch a guy that is a professional footballer, he’s not living that lavish lifestyle and going out getting bottle service at clubs, because a lot of guys don’t have more or believe in that stuff.
"But kids have this vision growing up that when they become a footballer there’s gonna be cameras and lights and that women are the objects in that whole thing.
“We’re trying to teach boys that respect towards women is really what makes what type of man you’re going to be. A lot of the societies we go to, you can still beat girls and still rape girls, and it’s appalling to people in western culture, but it happens in the western culture as well. It happens in the UK and the United States every day.
“So I just wanna change that view a little bit, the stereotypes around professional footballers. More professional footballers have the platform to speak about it and young boys are listening and looking up to them with wide eyes and open ears, and so whatever they say is gold, so I hope that message gets to those boys.”
It’s clearly an issue Brovsky is passionate about. He speaks with an openness and enthusiasm that cannot be manufactured. It’s both inspiring and refreshing.
He speaks with similar fervour about his professional life. He’s about to embark on a new challenge, playing for NYCFC, a brand new MLS franchise, who begin their league campaign on Sunday with a trip to fellow new boys Orlando City. So what’s he most excited about ahead of the new season?
“Just the city of New York and joining this new club...the buzz is fantastic so far.
“Playing in Yankee Stadium is going to be incredible, just a unique venue for a football match. I think the boys are ready to represent the club and the City Football Group, and we have all the support we could ever wish for. We have all the tools and all the resources, and now it’s just about us putting the product on the field and go with it.”
Being part of City Football Group, a conglomerate of clubs across the world owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group, who first acquired Manchester City in 2008 but have since added Melbourne City FC, Yokohama F. Marinos and NYCFC to its portfolio. It’s a new, exciting venture, the first of its kind in the world of football.
There are myriad benefits for NYCFC of being part of the collective. They can loan City’s youngsters, share data and scouting reports and also make use of the state-of-the-art facilities in east Manchester. Indeed, as part of their preseason preparations, they played two warm-up matches at City’s new football academy centre, and trained there for 10 days. It’s an experience Brovsky feels he’s benefitted from hugely.
“It’s been incredible. Just seeing the world-class facilities, the level of professionalism, on and off the pitch, is something I can attest as a young American that most guys in America want to experience at some point in their life. I think all the guys are walking away from this experience taking something away from it, knowing, somehow, they’re a better player.”
When NYCFC were formed, Jason Kreis was the man headhunted to take over, a man who has tasted MLS success with Real Salt Lake and garnered a reputation as a Head Coach who likes to play attractive, attacking football. It’s an appealing prospect for Brovsky.
“It’s fantastic. As an outside-back, he really wants you to get on the ball and be a part of the attack. I love to attack, but the past few years maybe that part of my game has been in the background a little bit, so I think with this system, with the midfielders that we have, I think we’re gonna be a very dangerous team.
“We haven’t really sat down and had a goal meeting yet, but every guy in the locker room sees where the quality is going in this club and where the expectations from the outside organisation is.
"From the staff, the feeling we’re getting is they’re expecting us to be fighting right there at the end of the season for a cup, and I think every guy in the locker room has no doubt in their minds that we could be there, we just need to make sure we get an identity, we stick to it, we all buy in to it, and it’s a game-by-game thing but, overall, you need have a vision of where you’re going and I think we all have that same vision.
“I think having a diamond in the midfield, with four very creative, technical players, we’re gonna want the ball all the time. We wanna be a team that attacks quickly but also keeps the ball from the back going forward. Every guy on the pitch needs to be ready to have the ball at their feet at any given moment, and I know that Jason respects the ball, he loves the beautiful game, and as a player that’s what you want."
Brovsky is impressed with the recruitment drive at NYCFC, with the quality of the players they’ve signed, particularly their big-name designated players Frank Lampard and David Villa, exciting to play alongside.
“Being an expansion club gave us the opportunity to hand-pick some of the guys to really fill those roles. The staff has done an incredible job of getting a mixture of guys in with the same mentalities and the same outlooks.
"There’s a cohesiveness already in the group that’s unlike I’ve seen. This is the third expansion club for me and I’ve already seen more cohesiveness than the previous two, and I think we’ve got the talent. If you look at our midfield alone, especially with Frank [Lampard] coming in, and Mix [Diskerud], and guys like [Ned] Grabavoy and [Andrew] Jacobson who have been in the league for years and years, it’s just incredible. It’s exciting for any young guy at the club.
“As fantastic a player as David Villa is on the pitch, he’s just as fantastic a guy off it. I can tell the staff really did their homework when they were looking at designated players—what type of guys they’re going after—because Frank’s the same way. These guys are great guys off the pitch, they want success for the club, they want to teach young players, and that’s what you want out of a designated player coming into this league.
“They’re making millions of dollars, so maybe it’s easy for guys to say 'I’ll coast out my career out in the United States,' but David’s here to win, David’s here to teach and also get better himself. I can see that he wants to get better and make the team better, and we’re excited to have him.”
NYCFC may be an expansion club, but Brovsky insists they’re thinking big ahead of their debut MLS campaign.
“It’s always funny with an expansion team because, you know, the league maybe isn’t expecting as much from a success point of view, but I can firmly say with this club we’re expecting success from the beginning, and we don’t see ourselves as an expansion club, we already feel like we’ve played together for years.
You can see it in training, and you could see it in our first match that the guys were comfortable with each other. Expansion seasons mean you have to feel the league out, but we have enough experienced guys who have been in Major League Soccer for a long time that they know how to weather those ups and downs, and the world-class talent sprinkled in is a recipe, possibly, for a perfect storm."
So, finally, how would he sum up NYCFC’s style ahead of the new season?
"Beautiful football. We all wanna play beautiful football.”
For more information on NYCFC, visit their website
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2014-15 season. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter: @RobPollard.