Don McPherson: “…They Don’t Want To Hear What We Have To Say.”

Former Syracuse University and NFL quarterback Don McPherson was a groundbreaking and dynamic figure in college football back in the ’80s who finished second in the Heisman voting in 1987. McPherson, from Hempstead in Strong Island, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988 after a college career in which he set 22 school records, led the nation in passing and racked up numerous Player of the Year awards, including the Maxwell Award as the nations best player, the Davey OBrien National Quarterback Award and the inaugural Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

WATCH- College Football Narratives: Don McPherson (Pt. 1)

College Football Narratives- Don McPherson Pt.1

In total, McPherson spent spent seven seasons in the NFL and CFL with the Eagles, Houston Oilers, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Ottawa Rough Riders. His accomplishments during his tenure at Syracuse, however, are the most memorable for fans and led to his College Football Hall of Fame induction in 2008. McPherson, a man whose perseverance and accomplishments on the field are legendary and are only superseded by his character, was in attendance at the NFF College Football Hall of Fame Induction ceremony this week to witness mythical performers such as Peyton Manning and Marshall Faulk enter the brotherhood of elite college ballers.  

When you are so many years away from your career and you get honored for something like the Hall of Fame, McPherson told TSL, it isnt about what you did on the field. Its about celebrating the game, the history of the game, so in that regard, I stay close to the celebration. I stay close to the NFL.” 

McPherson stormed the national college scene at a time when black quarterbacks in the NFL were still somewhat of a novelty. He was a huge story as he led Syracuse University on a magical ride 11-0 ride in 1987 and emerged as a dual-threat QB. 

As an undersized African-American quarterback, McPherson wrote a letter to all 32 NFL teams warning them that if they didnt plan on drafting him as a quarterback then dont draft him at all. It was common practice at the time for a pro team to take a perfectly capable quarterback and change their position to cornerback, running back or wideout. It still happens in the NFL today.  

I was firm on my stance with that,” McPherson told The Shadow League, “and similar to the NFL protests, sometimes you have to stand strong on issues that you know arent right.  

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The evolution of the black quarterback has been wonderful because sometimes I see guys playing in the league and I dont even know their name, which is cool to have guys who I didnt see or know of have the opportunity to play at the top level. Some of the best black quarterbacks in the past, didnt even get an opportunity. Thats just a testament to the NFL being more welcoming and youth football giving young African-Americans coming up the pipeline in high schools and college an opportunity to play the game of quarterback. 

On the field progress is great, but at the same time, respecting the NFL protests which represent the cries of a community and a group of oppressed people is something McPherson feels strongly about as well. He knows about being an underdog. 

“I don’t think theres much of a difference in how black quarterbacks are perceived,” McPherson told TSL. “Theres been more acceptance from the game itself, but the acceptance in the game was never really the big problem. It was in ownership and management, coaching staff as well. But everything we’ve seen with Colin Kaepernick proves that they want black people to play the game, but they dont want to hear what we have to say. We went through a period of more money in the business in the business and less activism because of more money and Colin brought activism back into the game by saying, Hey, Im not just a one dimensional man who plays football. Im also an African-American man who lives in his community.’

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Since his playing days at Cuse, McPherson has continued to be a vehicle for change in the community and abroad. He’s used the influence of a fame driven by excellence in sports to address complex social justice issues. He has created innovative programs, supported community initiatives and has lectured extensively at educational seminars throughout North America.

Since 1986, he has delivered school and community-based programs addressing issues such as drunk driving, alcohol and substance abuse, bullying, youth leadership and mentoring. He’s been quite the quarterback for the community and says he continues to grind these social issues and use his football legacy to build bridges and speak for the underserved and ignored.   

In 1995, McPherson turned his focus to the issue of mens violence against women, as director of Sport in Societys Mentors in Violence Prevention Program, emerging as a national leader and advocate for the prevention of sexual and domestic violence. He has conducted workshops and lectures for more than 250 college campuses, community organizations and national sports and violence prevention organizations, reaching more than 1 million people. 

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McPhersons impact on the football field continues to be felt, not only by a league that is littered with African-American talent at signal caller, but through his incredible activism and community involvement off the field as a champion and a mouthpiece for those suppressed factions of our nation.  

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