Soccer. Hockey. Football.
Jeb Brovsky’s cul-de-sac teemed with neighborhood kids playing in the street through much of the 1990s. The Minnesota United FC midfielder credits his passion for soccer and toughness to those halcyon days growing up in Columbine, Colo.
“If I came home crying or bleeding, my parents would say, ‘Either don’t go or don’t complain,’ ” said Brovsky, who always went back for more.
A kid who didn’t play much also sticks in Brovsky’s mind. Daniel Mauser would get off the school bus in the afternoon and walk home playing with the Brovsky family cat, Rascal. Then an elementary school student, Brovsky recognized the older Mauser as a cerebral, independent young man with a gentle soul.
Mauser didn’t get off the bus on April 20, 1999. He was shot and killed, along with 11 students and a teacher, by two students at Columbine High School. The national tragedy rocked Brovsky’s suburban cul-de-sac.
“It hit me harder than I imagined,” said Brovsky, a fourth-grader that spring. “It strikes you that you’re not invincible.”
Two other kids from his cul-de-sac also died young. One committed suicide. The other was killed by a drunken driver. Brovsky vowed to carry more than just sadness into his adult life.
“I wanted to take the thing I loved about them most and live that way,” the 27-year-old Brovsky said.
That meant using sports as a platform to do good for others. Brovsky attended Notre Dame, where he earned three all-Big East soccer citations. As a senior in 2010, he founded Peace Pandemic. The organization’s mission: Empower children and end structural and physical violence against women through soccer.
Peace Pandemic does not work within any religious or political circles, which has allowed Brovsky and his wife, Caitlin, to reach kids of various faiths in India, Guatemala, Liberia, the United States and Canada.
One of the hard lessons Brovsky took from the Columbine massacre was “the bully mentality and kids growing up thinking it’s a dog-eat-dog world and there’s no room for compassion,” he said.
At Peace Pandemic camps, Brovsky starts by teaching soccer skills. After training, he engages the boys while Caitlin talks with the girls. Brovsky asks youngsters about their views of what a man is and should be. Then he encourages them to grow into responsible, compassionate role models in their homes and communities.
“It’s only going to get worse without talking to kids,” said Brovsky, who became a father in 2015.
An atypical professional athlete, Brovsky earned the respect and admiration of Minnesota coach Carl Craig.
“A lot of our life philosophies are similar,” Craig said. “He’s the type of bloke I’d sit and have a beer with and be comfortable talking about real stuff.”
Brovsky, in his first year with the Loons, also has played a vital part of the team’s spring season. While spreading a message of nonviolence throughout the world is his calling, Brovsky doesn’t mind mixing with the opposition on the field. He could be found amid two skirmishes during the New York match. And he antagonized Fort Lauderdale’s Geison Moura into getting a red card and ejection.
“Juliano [Vicentini] and Jeb play off each other well in the midfield,” defender Justin Davis said. “Juliano is a crafty player, so you need someone to do the dirty work and Jeb that’s guy.”
Drafted by Vancouver of Major League Soccer, Brovsky played with three MLS franchises. With Montreal in 2013, Brovsky attempted a header and smashed his nose into an opponent’s head. His face covered in blood, the kid from the cul-de-sac in Columbine got patched up and played on. After the match, an ambulance whisked him to doctors, who found Brovsky’s nose broken in six places.
“That’s the attitude I’ve had since I was younger,” he said. “They older kids never went easy on me so I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder.”