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Joe Ehrmann, former NFL player, encourages students to focus on relationships, community improvement

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LOWVILLE — Former professional football player Joe Ehrmann on Tuesday encouraged students here to redefine gender-based roles and focus on improving relationships and their communities.

“Each and every one of you is a sign of hope,” Mr. Ehrmann, who played football at Syracuse University and spent 13 years in the NFL, said during an assembly at Lowville Academy and Central School.

Students from the Copenhagen and South Lewis districts also attended the presentation.

The Buffalo native, who attended seminary after his playing days and has since had inner-city and pastoral ministries, encouraged students to take on the “concept of community,” much like a football team that pulls together to achieve common goals despite divergent backgrounds and personalities.

People also need to delete negative messages sent by others and cultures that diminish their self-worth, he said.

“You have to define yourself,” he said. “Nobody gets to define you.”

The motivational speaker and author said one of his primary goals is to combat a “crisis of masculinity and femininity,” outlining three “myths” for each gender that lead to unfulfilled lives.

Males often are inherently taught that their success depends on athletic ability, sexual conquest and economic gain, Mr. Ehrmann said.

Meanwhile, females are to focus on making themselves worthy of finding a “Prince Charming,” having an ideal body type and abandoning their authentic selves to find popularity, love and acceptance, he said.

While growing up, Mr. Ehrmann said he had focused on the three “myths of masculinity” and passed them along to his younger brother.

However, that changed when his brother, as a promising teenage athlete, was diagnosed with cancer.

Mr. Ehrmann recalled spending five months sleeping on a cot in his brother’s hospital room while playing football and finding the true sense of community in that pediatric ward, with all families there celebrating any gains and consoling about losses.

Mr. Ehrmann said he has since determined that, for both men and women, two things give true meaning to life: fostering relationships and striving to make the world a better place.

He challenged students to do an Internet search for the 100 greatest speeches of all time, suggesting that those two themes resonate through all of them.

Lowville High School Principal Daniel J. Cushing commended Mr. Ehrmann for bringing “the message to each one of us to treat each other the way we want to be treated — the message that we care for each other.”

The assembly provides a kickoff for the district’s second annual Impact Week, set to begin May 19, which will focus on the anti-bullying Dignity for All Students Act, as well as detailing specific sources of strength for students during tough times, he said.

Mr. Ehrmann over the past few days gave several other talks in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties, including a public presentation Tuesday night at Jefferson Community College in Watertown.

The events were sponsored by United Way of Northern New York, with Mountain View Prevention Services and Lewis County Opportunities Inc. co-sponsoring the Lowville presentation.

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