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Interview with activist and former NFL player Don McPherson

By Matthew Wojtechko

Women’s rights activist and College Football Hall of Famer Don McPherson sat down with The Review the afternoon of his campus lecture “The Blind Spot of Masculinity” on Oct. 29.

First, he talked about feminism.

“I didn’t identify as a feminist until after ten years of pro-feminist work,” McPherson said, explaining that he eventually recognized he was a feminist after reflecting on his women’s rights activism.

He noted that the word “feminism” has been unfairly demonized.

“If you’re an economist, it means you care and think about the economy,” McPherson said. “As a feminist, I care and think about the rights and equity of women and work towards that.”

He said he would rather be labelled a feminist than a football player.

“Being a feminist as a man, to me, means that I have been able to embrace a wholeness of myself,” McPherson said. “Being a football player is being a really, really narrow thing. It doesn’t ask a lot of me as a person.”

McPherson continued to explain how people do not realize that most athletes’ lives are full of insecurities, sensitivities, fear of failure and depression since they are in constant competition with themselves.

“Did my opponent work harder than me?” McPherson said, as an example of an athlete’s stress.

These vulnerabilities are hidden by the toughness associated with sports, he said, or put another way, the hyperbole of sports perpetuates the myth of masculinity that men are not vulnerable.

“Masculinity is not this narrow thing. As men we are not just these tough guys who want to get laid and like to drink beer," McPherson said. “We are very complex. We have to allow each other to live that complexity.”

McPherson said he focuses on this idea in a chapter of a book he is writing.

He then explained how his lecture is the type of conversation that needs to happen in high schools. Teenage boys, he said, are developing addictions to violent pornography, yet our culture is afraid to have honest discussions about sex.

“I’m not talking about sexual violence or bad sex,” McPherson said, “I’m talking about wonderful, beautiful, amazing, incredible sex. This wonderful thing that people do in intimacy in a variety of ways. […] It’s what brought us all into the world. And yet we’re still afraid to talk about it.”

McPherson said that he speaks with college students about these topics because college life gives new freedoms to 18 to 22-year-olds, and this introduces sex-related issues.

Colleges should help students navigate their relationships, he said

Then, McPherson drew comparisons between racism in the 60’s to sexism now.

The derogatory term “uppity nigger,” he said, was used to describe a black person who demanded respect.

“[This] is now how we look at feminists,” McPherson said, “'Oh, well, they want everything’ – no, they just want to be able to walk down the street and not have you call them out.”

It was white people, he said, who rejected the racist behavior of other whites that helped address racism. Likewise, McPherson said we need men to oppose other men’s sexist behavior.

Finally, McPherson talked about how language plays a role in gender-related issues.

The worst insults men give to each other, he said, include “don’t throw like a girl” or “don’t be a girl.”

“That’s the language we as men use with each other to maintain and police this narrow understanding of masculinity,” he said. “But what we’re doing in that process is we’re saying women and girls are less than.”

McPherson said he has thought about the question of how coaches can motivate their male athletes to be tough without disparaging women or homosexuals.

“We don’t have much language there,” he said.

McPherson began his hour-long lecture by discussing the recent Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. He then addressed how the cultural fear of discussing sex has enabled internet pornography, which he described as “rape by category,” to be teenagers’ primary teachers on sex.

McPherson evoked audience participation and laughter throughout his lecture, which concluded with a raffle of prizes for the students in attendance.

Caelan NcChesney, freshman history major, and Briana Huff, freshman music major, were among the around 350 people present at the lecture.

Both students stated that going to the lecture was worth it and think the talk could help some students on campus.

Huff said she liked how McPherson tried to include students in the lecture.

“I felt it was pretty great,” she said. “He’s very direct and you can relate. He’s just very open about himself.”

According to his website, McPherson has addressed “complex social justice issues” for over 27 years, creating “innovative programs,” supporting community service providers and giving educational seminars throughout North America. In 1995, it reads, McPherson became focused on the issue of men’s violence against women.

The website also reads that McPherson played football at Syracuse University and later in the NFL and CFL, earning a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

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