A College Football Team Changes The Playing Field of Human Trafficking

It’s Saturday morning. It’s game day. You arrive to a rowdy stadium crowded with football fans, and everyone sporting their team colors. You hear the hustling footsteps, ice swirling around in your drink, and a multitude of voices ringing out in strategized chants and songs around you. The smell of hotdogs, popcorn, and freshly cut grass linger in the air. You see the rising moon, shining brightly on the organized chaos as fans file in and take their seats. Everyone’s attention, though scattered, remains on one sole focus: their team. Finally, when the announcer takes the microphone and welcomes the crowd he says, “Women across the world are being exploited for sex. We’re selling t-shirts to raise funds to help support non-profits who are working to rescue these women.”

To some, a football game that puts the focus on women being sexually exploited is unheard of. For Kirk Wherritt, Coach of the Trinity International University Trojans college football team in Chicago, this is the average game day. What made Coach Wherritt so involved with the issues surrounding Sexual Exploitation? It all started four years ago, when he recognized that some of his players were struggling with sexual addictions. They weren't aware of the effects resulting from these sexual habits, and the long lasting bondage it could have over their lives, as well as other peoples’.

“The biggest sex educator of young men today is pornography, which is increasingly violent and dehumanizing, and it changes the way men view women.” -Dr. Gail Dines *

Coach explained, “What I want the guys to understand is that they’re a part of the problem (sex trafficking). It’s easy to say it’s the pimps (traffickers) and it’s the Johns (clients) and not look at ourselves and say well, I’m a part of it too. We want to use the reality of what’s going on, to help us change from within. I want to challenge them that with the Holy Spirit, there can be a transformation from within.”

Coach Wherritt had heard of a film called Nefarious, which tells a story about the effects of modern day slavery hurting an estimated 27 million people today, and planned to show the film to his team. In this documentary titled Nefarious - Merchant Of Souls, much is revealed about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of this growing epidemic. He decided that watching the film might be a good place to begin on their journey of transformation.

“I only told a group of six or seven people about what I had planned,” he explained, then paused after a quiet laugh. I imagine it was with the nervous memory of what it felt like to be uncertain of how his team would respond to the film, and to the change in the team’s focus that Coach Kirk was calling for.

And how many people were on the team at the time?” I asked for further clarification.

About 90-100,” he responded. “Ages 18-22. We showed the video Nefarious to the team, and didn’t give them a heads up of what the film was about. After, a group of men from various churches led us in discussion questions according to the film and personal struggles.”

As I listened with eagerness, I then raised the question, “What was the team's initial response to your challenge?” I was talking about his challenge of becoming an inhibitor to sex trafficking, instead of being congruent to it, and allowing this change to start from within.

It gripped the heart of the team very quickly,” He replied. At this point, the Trojans weren’t just about football, soon they would be about justice too.

Coach Wherritt spoke about how for three years, they began sending small groups of coaches, and players to India. This is where they began working with Bright Hope, a non-profit organization who responds to the exploitation of women. Whoever had a desire, and the availability to go, went to India in representation of the entire Trinity Trojans football team. During these mission trips, they met with many rescued women, and listened to their life stories. These team members were challenged with new perspectives of women, sex, and lust. They gained a Godly vision for love, and justice in the world.

“I wanted to show the guys a Biblical view of women and sex, that they should respect women, that she is someone’s future wife. The trips were a visual of what is going on. They spread passion around the team.” he said.

Each trip they took, they went with a different set of guys, and returned with a new story.

Coach began to tell me more. “On the first trip, we got to go into the Red Light district and pray over enslaved girls and minister to a Pimp. It broke the guys’ hearts, to see the enslavement of this man’s own sin. Even players who didn’t go to India were responding. They throw around the word ‘hero’, they say these women are their heroes, because they’re persevering through so much.”

As he continued with the story, it was clear to me that the response from the small groups who went to India caught fire and spread across the rest of the team.

“After each trip, the teams would share about their experience with the rest of us. It was at that after-trip meeting from our second visit with Bright Hope when they really lit the fire of where do we go from here. The guys talked about porn and different addictions. As a team, they confessed their sins and repented in front of everyone. It was an openness I’d never seen before.”

As I thought about the bravery it took for Coach Kirk to speak to the players on his team about an issue that most people prefer to keep hidden, I wanted to know more about the impact his choice made on these men.  “What are some other memories from this journey?”, I inquired.

He then replied, “There was a player who struggled with his role on the team. After his first trip, his heart stirred about the mess in his own life. He really became a catalyst for an addiction recovery group. Later, a group of four seniors rode bicycles from Chicago to Orange County California. They used the trip to stop at churches and schools to raise awareness and money, 23,000 dollars was raised for anti-trafficking causes. None of the four went to India, by the way. They hadn’t seen firsthand, yet their hearts were so moved to combat this evil”

Coach Kirk’s office sits in a converted dorm on the college campus, his office is the last of three dorms down a hallway. His walls are adorned with football schemes outlined on whiteboards, calendars, photos of his family, and photos of the girls from the safe house in India. There also hangs one of the fundraising t-shirts, signed by all the players symbolizing their commitment to combat the exploitation of women, raise awareness about the issue, and to strive for purity in their own lives. To some, his office seems perfectly balanced with the passions of his heart nailed to the wall: football and combatting trafficking. To others, it appears his heart is divided between coaching football and advocating for other causes. A number of people have scrutinized him for coaching the players on subjects outside of football.

A percentage of people on campus and on the team question and say, ‘Isn’t it your job to win games and coach a football team? You’re too much of a pastor.’ Sometimes the battle is to do it the way God wants me to do it, not the way other people think.” He said, with assurance.

As our conversation came to an end, I felt very encouraged by the fact that God used a single man to transform an entire football team, which eventually created a domino effect in the players sphere of influence. I thought to myself, “Maybe it is possible for God to use anyone to do the same. Maybe it is possible that God can use anyone to catalyze such a change in hearts, and minds.”

So, I had one last question as my mind continued wondering, “Is it possible for other coaches to catch onto the cause?” In which he answered, “If their heart is for seeing boys become men, even if they’re not Christ followers, trying to see these guys treat women properly with respect, teaching guys to see women as someone’s daughter, or someone’s soon to be wife, and giving them a different view, I don't know why you couldnt, or wouldnt want to grab a hold of this.”

So friends, whether we have a stadium audience, or just those around us, we all have a voice. We’re all able to use our platform, in order to share the reality of how our sexual sins/addictions have an impact locally, and globally. It isn’t uncommon for us look to at the world, and see these seemingly intangible issues like sex trafficking, and say we want change. Sadly though, it's almost problematic getting ourselves to grasp the fact that change begins with us, and our own inner transformation. Which is the story being told today.

Initially, it is difficult to make the connection between sex trafficking, and a heart full of lust. However, there is a connection. It is a simple concept called supply and demand. The reality is, that there are women being forced into prostitution and sold for sex because there is a market demanding for porn, sexual favors, and prostitution. Therefore, the larger the demand, the larger the supply. And vice-versa.

In an article by the Huffington Post titled,Want to Stop Sex Trafficking? Look to America’s Porn Addiction, the writer explains how recent bills passed by our House fail to assist where the trade begins, which is with the demand;

“As great as these bills are, however, they fail to properly address the most important part of sex trafficking: reducing demand before men use, abuse, and torture women, girls and boys for sadistic personal pleasure. ... pornography is a key ingredient in that demand (sexual exploitation)… In other words, when Americans watch porn, they’re fooled into thinking they are always watching free men and women engaging in consensual sexual intercourse. Contrary to the popular image of the porn industry, many women are being forced to have intercourse, be groped, kicked, beaten, etc. … According to FTND CEO Clay Olsen, ‘porn fuels the demand for the sex trade’ in a way often not seen by those who view porn. ‘Traffickers have learned to package their product in a way that disguises the fact that the ‘performers’ are forced to participate,’ said Olsen.” *

Watching porn might feel harmless because you’re unaccompanied with an electronic screen, and it doesn't seem like anyone else could be hurt from such a private action. But this is a lie, and we can see it from the supply and demand concept surrounding human trafficking. Ultimately, using porn to fulfill sexual desires leads to deep rooted issues, and the physiological need for a new sexual fulfillment. We see that porn doesn’t work forever, eventually the desire increases, leading to the actual purchase of sex. As long as people continue to buy into the lie that it is harmless to fulfill sexual desires through porn, the more human trafficking crimes will rise. Buy into the truth, that we can reduce the number of trafficking crimes, and it all starts with ONE: The Self.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

(Phil. 3:12-14)

*John-Henry Westen, 2015, Want To Stop Trafficking? Look to America’s Porn Addiction - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johnhenry-westen/want-to-stop-sex-traffick_b_6563338.html