Rachel Baribeau has seen much of the nation in a fast-paced career as a radio host, a producer of content for numerous college football outlets, a sideline reporter for Fox broadcasts of Atlantic Coast Conference games and now, wearing yet another of her many hats, as a motivational speaker to college players.
Speaking to the University of Alabama team on Thursday as part of Nick Saban’s annual series of presentations to the players on topics outside of football was something different, she says.
“It was a homecoming, sort of coming full circle,” Baribeau said. “I feel like I grew up here. It was emotional walking through that building, talking to guys where I used to interview them.”
Full disclosure: Baribeau worked for Tidesports.com, the UA sports website of the Tuscaloosa News, from 2009-2011, reporting on everything from national championships to tornado recovery. She was the co-host for my podcast in those years, a thankless task at which she excelled.
“When I was hired, a lot of the people here viewed me as ‘that Auburn girl,'” says Baribeau, an AU graduate. “But this is where I learned to be objective, to really be a reporter. I wrote a letter to Coach (Nick) Saban after I left for being tough on me sometimes, like he is with reporters. That helped me grow so much. And I had my picture taken today in front of Mal Moore’s portrait, because he was always so helpful to me in my career.”
One of her great inspirations, Baribeau said, was another former Alabama player, the late Kevin Turner.
“I met KT in Birmingham and it changed my life,” she said. “It gave me another purpose beyond a career. When I saw him, what struck me was how, with everything that ALS (the disease that eventually took Turner’s life last year), it never owned him. That was what gave me the idea for the presentation I gave today, called Changing The Narrative.”
Baribeau’s speech touched on everything from dealing with the media to preventing domestic violence, in which she addressed events in her own life.
“I told them that because of television, I’m recognized but some people ask me if college football players aren’t just like they see in the headlines,” she said. “The headlines (about college football) were so bad last summer I wanted to cry. But instead I decided to speak to teams about how they can change that. You don’t have to let it define you, just like Kevin Turner didn’t let his disease define him.
“I’ve spoken all over, from FSU to Clemson, Ole Miss, Minnesota and Florida International. Earlier this week, I spoke at Baylor which was also very emotional. The narrative around that program has been terrible, and I understand that, but all those coaches, players and administrators from the (sexual assault) scandal are gone, and the new coach, Matt Rhule, is doing so many good things.
“After I spoke, one of their players sent me a note and thanked me for bringing a positive message. He said ‘We thought everyone had forgotten us.’ So that meant a lot.
“It was the same thing today. I spoke for about 45 minutes on taking responsibility. I have black-and-white bracelets that I give to players that want that, but I tell them ‘don’t you dare take that bracelet unless you mean it,” unless you are ready to be responsible. More than 90 percent took it.
“They had to hustle off to position meetings after I spoke, but I still had 30 or 40 players come up and hug me or thank me. One player told me that his mom is dying of cancer and he wanted to be a king for her.
“I know in any group you can’t reach everyone, but if you reach just one, you can save a career, or an education, or a life. That’s what makes it worth it to me.”