By Amber Baillie
U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Athletes at the U.S. Air Force Academy are serious about sexual assault awareness – so much so, they filmed a “Cadet Athletes Against Sexual Violence” video in the spring that has captured the attention of thousands throughout social media and the military community.
The two-and-a-half-minute montage features 13 cadet athletes from various athletic teams, including football, volleyball, soccer and basketball, pledging to end sexual violence and the culture perpetuating it.
“I have close friends who have had experience with sexual assault, and it is something I feel very strongly against,” said Cadet 1st Class Justin Hammonds, an Academy basketball player featured in the video. “Sexual assault is a problem and is something everyone should strive to stop.”
Produced by 2nd Lt. Heather Shepard, an Academy military trainer at the Academy Preparatory School, during her time as a cadet athlete, the video includes cadets playing sports at the Academy’s tennis courts, swimming pool, track and other athletic areas, giving their word to “create a culture where respect is vital,” “countering a culture that looks at people as sexual objects instead of as human beings,” and pledging to “not stereotype or place judgment on victims who come forward.”
“As cadet athletes, we understand that we are the face of the Academy,” said Cadet 1st Class Zach Perkins, a cross-country athlete featured in the video. “Showing that sexual assault (awareness) is important to us helps get the message out not only to some of the cadets who support our athletic endeavors, but also the teams we compete against and the spectators who follow us.”
Perkins said the video shows a side of Academy athletes not often noticed by the public.
“Cadet athletes perform academically at one of the most rigorous academic institutions in the nation, are military leaders in the Cadet Wing, and practice and perform at very high levels of competition,” he said. “This side of the Academy needs to be presented to the public.”
Cadet 1st Class Jimi Blagowsky, a basketball player featured in the video, said she learned from a friend and Academy-exchange cadet that the video received positive comments when seen by midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I believe sexual assault awareness can never be talked about enough,” she said. “It’s something that we as cadets, must continue to emphasize, as well as when we enter the operational Air Force.”
Cadet athletes are a very visible part of the community and those taking a stance against sexual violence may help influence their peers to do the same, said Maria Moreno, a sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate here.