Natalie Tysdal: Exchanging something meaningful

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DENVER — I met a man today who gave me something that will always have special meaning. It’s a pin with a woman’s initials. Here’s some background on why it matters…

The memory of that one night still lingers. It wasn’t a position the 21 year old woman ever thought she would be in. She was assaulted by someone she didn’t know, in a public place. The very large and muscular man reached between her legs. She did her best to push him away but he was more than twice her size and he wouldn’t let go. He insisted that she “liked it” and that she “wanted more”. His eyes darted straight into hers in a way that said, “Don’t dare tell me no”. She was afraid, disgusted and powerless. When he let go, she bolted away feeling relief like she had never known before.

She went home that night telling herself that she would never think of it again, feeling like she had escaped what could have been a much more serious situation. She then discovered more about the man who had assaulted her. He was a college football player known to be trouble even before being recruited to play for the University of Nebraska. A 305 pound, six-foot-two inch linebacker coached by Tom Osborne, one of the best known men in NCAA history.

The young woman started hearing stories from fellow students about other women who were assaulted, even raped by the same man. His name was Christian Peter. It was then that she decided to go to the police, with the hope that others would also come forward. Through her college graduation, her first job, even her engagement to the love of her life, she endured the scrutiny of football fans and the legal proceedings that went along with pressing sexual assault charges against a high profile athlete. Nearly two years after the assault, Peter pleaded “no contest” to third degree sexual assault and was sentenced to 18 months probation. While at the University of Nebraska he was arrested 8 times for various violations but never missed a football game. The Cornhuskers won the national football championship in 1995 and met the President at a private ceremony in Washington.

The next year Peter was drafted to play professional football for the New England Patriots. After learning of his background of violence against women, the owner of the Patriots did something a team owner had never done before. He cut Peter from the team just days after the draft. It was the first time in the league’s 75 year history that a player had been relinquished after the draft and before training camp. It was a move that spoke volumes and the man behind it was a rookie owner in the NFL. Successful and powerful in his own right, businessman and Patriots owner Robert Kraft made a statement that set off a firestorm in the New England area. Kraft said that Peter’s behavior was “incompatible with our organization’s standards of acceptable conduct.”

The young woman in Nebraska was by this time a working professional and had left her home state. The enormous decision by Mr. Kraft meant more to her than anyone knew. Her hope was that it would lead Peter to get professional help and it would encourage other women and victims to have faith. It said to her that Kraft was a man who believed in morality over sports, the safety of women over making money and building a team around core values and good leaders. All things that we don’t have enough of in today’s world. All lessons we should be teaching our kids at a young age.

I had the extreme honor of meeting Mr. Kraft in -what is now- almost 19 years since that incident that left me with nightmares as a young woman.

When he walked into the room he shook my hand and said, “is your name Natalie?” I said, “yes”. He replied, “My sweetheart’s middle name was Natalie and she died earlier this year, you would have really like her.”

I felt an immediate connection. Myra Kraft was a well known philanthropist who gave more than just money to many causes. She was known as an amazing and classy woman who put character above all else. Mr. Kraft thanked me for having the courage to do the right thing. I thanked him for doing the same.

I told him how my father had given me an old and meaningful coin when I was 21, I carry it with me when I need courage. I had it with me that day and I had purchased a new coin that I gave to him. He gave me a pin with his wife’s initials representing the foundation he created in her name.

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With three kids of mine own now, all too young to understand the magnitude of this meeting, my hope is that the world they live in will one day have more role models with character and the courage to do what’s right.

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