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The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


The Student News Site of Gannon University since 1947


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February 23, 2024

Former NFL quarterback has honest conversation with Gannon athletes


More than 450 Gannon student-athletes sat down on Sunday afternoon to listen to social activist and former NFL quarterback Don McPherson speak upon the issues of sexual violence, bystander intervention and the significance of language.

McPherson, 49, played quarterback at Syracuse University where he was named a unanimous All-American, was nearly a Heisman Trophy winner and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.  The social activist has been speaking on complex public issues using sports as a channel for his message.

“I do this because I love sports,” McPherson said in his 45-minute conversation with the Knights.  “Sports are not an event, they are a process.  You practice the little things over and over again.”

McPherson used that analogy to compare to everyday life.  The little things we do each day ultimately decide the actions we take, especially in relation to sexual harassment and assault, he added.

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McPherson used several stories about what he called “the heat of the moment.”  This moment in time – in sport or in life – is a moment when there is no time to think but only react.  McPherson stressed the importance of preparation and having the knowledge of what is the right action.

A need for positive examples and positive role models on how to treat women, conduct oneself in public or interact with peers was another talking point McPherson drilled.

“We don’t have an honest conversation on social issues, we just tell you not to do something; it’s bad, walk away,” he said.  “You aren’t prepared for the heat of the moment.”

Another main focus of McPherson’s talk was the importance of language.  The social activist was adamant on the need for honest, not sanitized discussion into topics like sexual violence, bullying and treatment of women.

“We all know what not to say and that silence allows the issues to keep happening,” McPherson said. “There needs to be a discussion to break those barriers and open up honest conversation.”

Little things like how you talk with friends, teammates or family can shape the actions and mindset on social issues, he said.

Alexis Strouse, a freshman physical therapy and business major, said she appreciated when he brought up women’s violence through a different perspective.

“I realized we weren’t giving young people good information to make good decisions,” McPherson told ABC affiliate WJET-TV 24.  “We were using athletes to talk to them in assemblies and we weren’t really drilling deep into the issues and helping people navigate.  That’s the beauty of sports.  We practice to make good decisions and when it comes to social issues, we have to drill deep.”

“I thought the most moving part of his speech was when he made all the men raise their hand if they all had a lady in their life they loved and respected,” Strouse said. “Hardly any of them raised their hands. Don even asked them, ‘not even your mothers?’”

The well-respected former NFL athlete and social activist took time to give Gannon students unfiltered information, all the while giving those students a positive example – his goal all along.



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