What do freedom and football have in common? In one small town in Tennessee, the answer is a high school coach who saw a problem he couldn't turn his back on. Read on for how he got his whole school involved in the fight against human trafficking, and what you can learn from his story.
On Friday, September 16, the Lenoir City High School Panthers of Lenoir City, Tennessee, teamed up against more than the Oak Ridge High School Wildcats. Under the guidance of head coach Jeff Cortez, the Panthers raised money through local business sponsorships to combat sex trafficking in the United States and around the world.
For the second year in a row, Coach Cortez raised funds for Freedom 4/24’s mission of bringing freedom and justice to victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The football team approached sponsors to pay for the cost of creating a shirt. On game day, shirts were sold for $5 a piece.
“It was fairly simple and easy,” said Cortez. “We used social media to inform our Facebook friends what we were doing and why. We handed out fliers on Freedom 4/24 and, before the game, I recorded a PSA that played on our scoreboard jumbotron to make sure everyone in the stadium was fully aware of the theme. … My hope is that they took those fliers back home to the church or community organization and got themselves involved.”
Cortez first learned about Freedom 4/24 when he participated in the organization’s annual 5k race, Run 4 Their Lives. With the name of a trafficking survivor written on each runner’s arm, the race made him more aware of the global pervasiveness of human trafficking. As a father of four, the run hit close to home.
“I can't imagine anything worse than a daughter being taken into that world,” Cortez said. “It’s abhorrent that in this day and time, it happens. With 20 million slaves worldwide ... it’s unbelievable to me!”
The Panthers’ coach hopes the fundraiser taught his players about the importance of using their special skill set to serve the people around them. “I hope they have a slight understanding of what is happening in their world,” Cortez said. “I hope they realize they can help, they have the power to DO something. Find a way to help out, find an organization you can get behind. We don't have to go on a mission trip; we can make that ‘trip’ and not have to leave the country.”
Many girls involved in the United States sex trafficking market are the same age as the Lenoir City High School football team, entering the industry as early as 12 years old. Children are one of the most vulnerable age groups for sexual exploitation. If you wish to donate or fundraise in your community, click the embedded links in this sentence.