'It's a hidden problem': Edmonton Eskimos' Ryan King tackles domestic abuse

Ryan King knows it takes a strong man to fight domestic violence.

The Edmonton Eskimos long snapper is part of an ongoing campaign aimed at promoting healthy relationships in raising the next generation of young boys and men.

He's lectured at local schools, men's groups and most recently spoke during a Saturday afternoon film screening and panel discussion examining masculinity, gender inequity and unhealthy relationships.

"We have these weird ways of raising our boys in society, not just in Edmonton, this is across the country," King said Wednesday during an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Domestic violence rates up in Edmonton

"This is not just an Edmonton issue, but when we started working with the men's groups, the women's shelters, that's when we started to realize that this is a huge problem in Edmonton, and it's a hidden problem."

A report to the city's police commission earlier this year showed Edmonton's domestic violence rates are nearly three times the national rate, with nearly 8,500 incidents reported in 2015.

King believes societal pressures that tell men they have to be strong, hyper-masculine and to inhibit their feelings contributes to the troubling statistics.

The Edmonton-born, Sherwood Park-raised CFL player said professional football remains a bastion of hyper-masculinity, but even the strongest players struggle to abide by those stereotypes.

"People pay us to show up and watch grown men run full speed into each other. That's almost as barbaric as it gets," King said.

"But I can tell you, as a pro athlete, I'm in the locker room everyday and 95 per cent of these guys are family men who love their women, love their children. When you go on the field, you turn the switch on."

'It's OK for a boy to cry'

King wants the next generation of boys to know it's OK to be vulnerable and change perceptions about what it means to be a man.

"You know, it's OK for a boy to cry," he said. "I mean, are really we teaching our kids the right mindset by telling them, 'No, you're not allowed to have these emotions?' "

The Edmonton Eskimos have been a frontrunner in the movement, with outreach programs raising awareness on attitudes toward violence against women and children.

Team CEO and president Len Rhodes has acknowledged that he was the victim of violent domestic abuse during his childhood.

Alberta Council of Women's Shelters launched its "Leading Change: The Alberta CFL Project" in March 2014.

King and other players from the Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders were trained and supported by ACWS staff to facilitate workshops on the issue of domestic violence.

"I was fortunate enough to be educated on this, and once you tell people about this, it's just as alarming for them as it was for me," King said.

"Usually when you hear those things, you have a human heart, and realize, 'I need to get on top of this or at least have this conversation with my kids.'

"The more conversations you can have around it, the better it will be in the end."