For Chuck Winters breaking the cycle of violence meant taking a good hard look at himself

When the former CFL player realized his stepfather’s violence had worked its way inside him, he knew he had to address it head on or risk becoming like the man he says put his family through ‘hell’.

'You have to really look yourself in the mirror and accept the things you have done,' says former CFL player

Charles "Chuck" Winters is a former Canadian Football League linebacker and defensive back who played for the Toronto Argonauts. (John E. Sokolowski)
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Chuck Winters was surrounded by violence growing up. He said it was normal to see his mother being slapped and beaten by his stepfather.

"He just had this mean demeanour, it was almost like a demonic demeanour," he told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Winters said the violence kept escalating until one night his mom came home bleeding from the head while he and his brother were sitting on the couch. 

"We're shocked and come to find out he was the person who hit her in the back of the head with a crowbar and stole her wallet."

The former CFL player says he regularly witnessed his mom being slapped and beaten by his stepfather, and eventually became violent himself. That led him on a path to modeling better behaviour within his own family. 1:08

Eventually, his stepfather ended up in jail. For Winters, it was a moment of great relief.

"There was a cloud over my house and the minute he went to jail, like the grass started growing, sun came out, clouds removed, and like whoa, OK, it was a party, like I can really take my coat off and take my shoes off and relax."

But the happy time wouldn't last. Winters' stepfather soon returned.

"He's back. He's out of jail. He's back at the house and he punched mom in the eye and stole a car."

Winters said something inside him finally snapped and he chased after his stepfather.

"My brother is like 'Holy hell.' And he hands me a baseball bat. I run over and I just go to swinging. Next thing I know he's on the ground. He's in a coma for three to four months."

Winters said he felt like he went into a controlled rage when he was beating his stepfather.

"I can remember it was all the frustration because I can recall saying those words like, 'This is for all the pain you took me through.'"

Breaking the cycle of violence

Winters was arrested and eventually received probation, when he decided to make a change before he ended up like the man he hated.

"I started reflecting and understanding I had that approach. Like, no man I can't do this because I am being just like you." 

Chuck Winters (Craig Desson)

Winters went on to graduate from university and have a successful career playing in the Canadian Football League, spending six seasons with the Toronto Argonauts. But he said learning to control his anger wasn't always easy.

"I'm not a violent person by nature. I wake up, I want to be happy. I want to be like, 'Hey man I love you,' and that's always there.

"It was hard to be able to focus on say, 'I have to cut it off before I get there.'"

Winters said his mom's advice is what's helped him stay strong.

"My mom always told me if a man can yell at you he can definitely put his hands on you. That would sit with me because I'm looking at myself like if I'm yelling then the next step is that."

Now Winters has four kids and wants to ensure they have a different life.

"I need to be the example of a man that they are going to look for when they start going on to the world."

Winters regularly shares his story to empower other victims of abuse on breaking the cycle of violence and said there is hope.

"It's hard work. You have to really look yourself in the mirror, and accept the things you have done. And say OK, it doesn't ultimately make me into the man I am everyday, because I always believe you can change."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Family Tree".