GREENWICH — During a week when attention fell on his football relationship with his dad, John Marinelli couldn’t help but talk about his relationships with his mom Fran, his two older sisters, his three nieces and his fiancée Anna Brown.
This is the week in October when John Marinelli must do something he doesn’t care much for: Take his Greenwich High Cardinals to face his dad Lou’s New Canaan team on Saturday night. Yet away from the game and close to Marinelli’s heart, this also is the week that starts Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Marinelli looks over at a plaque in the football office. He received the Purple Ribbon Award from the YMCA last year for his efforts in raising awareness about teen dating violence and the role of athletes in the community.
“I honestly don’t feel I deserve it,” he said. “When Meredith Gold told me, I was shocked. I was humbled. Of all the things I’ve done in life, it’s also one of the things I’m most proud about.”
No high school football game, no professional sporting event this week could overshadow the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. That fight has divided our nation, consumed us, demonstrated some of the worst aspects of our political process. Yet if anything good has come from it, from both sides of the aisle, the call for young men to treat young women with dignity has never reached more corners of the American consciousness. So good — no, great — on John Marinelli for already being there.
Marinelli shakes his head. He dismisses the notion he owned so much foresight after he took the job in Greenwich in 2015. He had no idea there would be a #MeToo movement. He wanted to find an important local cause and say, “Me, too.” A good heart would find a great cause.
“When I was at New Canaan as a coach, my dad was seriously involved with multiple myeloma research,” Marinelli said. “That was special to New Canaan and to us because (Kathy Giusti) from New Canaan started that whole research project and charity event. It’s an unbelievable organization.
“When I came to Greenwich, nothing existed like that. There are great charity events that move around across America. I wanted to find something that was homegrown in Greenwich. That was the goal, whether it was domestic violence awareness or something else.”
Marinelli did some research. He read about the YNet and YWCA. He emailed Meredith Gold, director of domestic abuse services of YWCA Greenwich.
“She was kind of shocked,” Marinelli said. “She said, ‘You’re a football coach?’ I said, yeah, I’m looking to educate and see if there is a charity we can put our mark on. I wanted it to be meaningful to my players, my players’ families and the community.”
It’s fine to have a charity 5K run. Kids also tend to forget about something like that. Domestic violence is something they could be educated on, too, and promote locally. The Greenwich players listened to a presentation by domestic abuse services, a difficult talk about consent and respect. There has been a presentation each year since.
There is a game each year where the Greenwich football team wore purple socks to mark domestic violence month. This year they will wear purple Cardinals during the homecoming game against Ludlowe (Oct. 27). Yet it is more than a pair of socks or a presentation. This is the difficult topic where Marinelli said he wants his program to plant a flag to continue the discussion. If we can plant more flags around Connecticut, yes, it will be a mighty message this October.
“Think about all the people in the media, athletes, politicians, celebrities who have had their issues with domestic violence,” Marinelli said. “All different stories.
“It’s meaningful and impactful to a teenage boy. Think about being a teenager right now. It’s hard. With all the social media applications, to know one picture could ruin their reputation, that’s something I didn’t even have in high school and I’m 32.”
Marinelli, a Trinity graduate, stresses choices with his guys. Parties, social media, choices come in so many ways.
“When they have a big win, for example, be smart that night,” Marinelli said. “I know decisions that have hurt people, ruined people’s lives. I don’t want to see that happen to a teenager who has a whole life ahead.”
Fair or unfair, Greenwich has become a national stereotype for privilege and entitlement. If something goes wrong in Greenwich, it’s not hard to guess where opinion will follow. With stories of Yale and Yale basketball, the Kavanaugh story hits close to home.
“We have one of the richest communities,” Marinelli said. “I also have players who live in low-income housing. I have sons of electricians and plumbers. I have sons of extremely wealthy individuals. I have lower, middle and upper class America in the same huddle. If anything, we talk more about that than if they get in trouble.”
Marinelli goes to a mistake he made in 2016.
“I was in the media for calling a play with Hitler or Stalin (shift right for Hitler, shift left for Stalin),” he said. “If I was coaching somewhere in Iowa would that have made the national media? I’m not proud of it. I’m using it as an example.
“You live in Greenwich. The name is known nationally, internationally. If something happens, it does sound like the rich Greenwich football player or teenager. They have a target on their back. I think a lot of people feel that way toward New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich, Wilton, Ridgefield, Fairfield. Yes, there are certain people that maybe don’t put the name in a great light, but it’s not fair to our kids. It’s certainly not fair to some of the people who work so hard to live in these towns. We’re trying to create a healthy balance for a teenager to make good life decisions and hopefully change the thought process toward people in those towns.”
Greenwich is the second biggest high school in the state. Marinelli has more than 100 players in the football program. I ask him to put me in the locker room. What does he tell his boys?
“Do the right thing,” he answered. “If your mother was in the room what would you say? What would you do? People know Greenwich. You live here. You’re used to it. You might not understand the impact on you. I honestly believe being in this town makes people better human beings. They also grow up in a microscope.”
Marinelli is eager to spread credit to his staff. He calls his award a program award. Marinelli periodically will speak at functions. He appeared on a panel a few weeks ago where a half-dozen organizations are trying to pool resources to involve the CIAC with coaches.
He knows studies shows one in three females and one in six males are victims of sexual assault. He knows this is a huge plague with so many tentacles. He has jumped to the forefront among our state’s high schools not for attention, but to spread the word of education: “Let’s stop the abuse.”