Career Highlights
Q&A with Don

Q: Why do you, a college hall of fame quarterback, identify as a FEMINIST? And, why not choose another word to represent what you are all about?

A: I came to feminism in my work to end men's violence against women. As a society, we lay this burden on women; to fight all forms of oppression and violence waged against our mothers, daughters, grandmothers. While contemplating the work to which I had dedicated my life, I saw a bumper sticker that read, "Feminism is the radical view that women are people too." It reminded me of something a priest once said during a training session I was conducting, 'you're talking about radical respect.' Yes. That day, I realized that I was a feminist. 

I continue to learn to respect a group of people for which I was raised not to respect. And those who took up the cause before me, regardless of what others said about them, were my comrades, my partners. We all fight for what we believe in and/or what we want the world to be like. We have environmentalists who work to save the earth and lobbyist to further their cause (or product) with the political elite. To me, a feminist is someone who cares about women and the issues that impact their lives. 

Q: The title of your primary lecture is "You Throw like a Girl." What is the most important part of your message regarding violence against women?

A: The message is twofold, first men must become part of the solution, with our voices. Most men are not violent but our silence allows those who are to continue their abuse. We must recognize all forms of abuse (verbal, emotional, etc.) as precipitating and equally insidious as physical violence. In doing so, we can truly prevent violence from occurring. The underlying message in "you throw like a girl" is that girls and women are "less than." This attitude results in our silence as well as our overall de-valuation of women.

Second, the statement or challenge, "you throw like a girl" is designed as challenge to a boy or mans understanding of masculinity. That perspective is typically quite narrow, especially in this context. We often hear men talk of having no choice (but to defend their manhood). When that "manhood" is narrowly defined, violence, excessive drinking and risky behavior are
more likely. 

My work is focused on giving boys and men more options based on a greater, broader understanding of what it really means to be a man. My quote, 'we don't raise boys to be men, we raise them not to be women,' came from hundreds of conversations with men as they expressed the limited understanding of masculinity that governed their lives.

Q: What were the most memorable/inspirational words you’ve heard, that still guide you?

A: My football coach at Syracuse, Dick MacPherson used to implore me, 'play within yourself.'  He was always trying to get me to settle down, play patiently and allow my talents to compliment others. I follow that advice everyday of my life; I constantly make sure that I am doing the best job I can and allow those around me to thrive to their capacity. I think it's one of the most important lessons a true leader understands.

Q: As a former professional athlete and feminist, what advice would you give to your daughters regarding sports and life?

A: One of the greatest accomplishments of the women's movement is that young girls can aspire to be ANYTHING they can dream. They can be captain of the Space Shuttle like Eileen Collins, headline at Lilith Fair or be a stay-at-home mom. I would tell them that the key is to find what they truly enjoy doing, have fun and thrive knowing that they will have my support, no matter what it is. This is actually why I spend a great deal of time addressing issues of masculinity.  Boys are not afforded the same latitude of options.  

Q: How have the lessons learned on the field help drive you today?

A: My most profound moments from my days as an athlete were when the impossible was made simple through preparation. I won championships in individual track and field events in high school and experienced come-from-behind, last second victories in football and each major moment was done with complete confidence because I (we) prepared for that moment. We did not prepare to lose, we prepared to WIN!

Q: What was the toughest football team/challenge you have ever faced?

A: It was the 1989 Philadelphia Eagles defense. I was a backup quarterback on that team and faced them everyday in practice. Early that season, Jeff Fisher (now coach of the Tennessee Titans) challenged me to be better in practice, because it helped our defense. So, everyday was my game day. And, it was also my greatest challenge because even though I was not the starter and I had to get motivated to make practice as important as the game. That defense was one of the best in NFL history. I know I had something to do with it, because I played within myself and helped to make them better.

Q: Who was the toughest player?

A: Shane Conlin from Penn State (Buffalo Bills). He was the hardest hitter. I remember once, he placed his helmet just below my sternum and drove up until it lodged in my chin. There was a cool breeze as he lifted me off my feet, sort of blissful and interrupted by the absurd, dull pain of him driving me into the turf.  He helped me up with a toothless smile. My smile was more like that of a root canal patient, unaware of the pain to come.


© 2012 Don Mcpherson Enterprises LLC.