Don McPherson is the 2021 recipient of the William Pearson Tolley Medal for Distinguished Leadership in Lifelong Learning, presented by Syracuse University’s School of Education and the 2020 National Football Foundation’s Outstanding Contribution to Amateur Football. These honors signify his lifelong mission to use his unique social position to serve the greater good.
In 2019 McPherson published You Throw Like a Girl: The Blind Spot of Masculinity, which chronicles 37 years of harnessing the power and appeal of sport to address complex social issues and focuses on a quarter century of work on gender-based violence prevention.
McPherson was an All-American quarterback at Syracuse University and is a veteran of the NFL (having been drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles after college) and of the Canadian Football League. As captain of the undefeated 1987 Syracuse football team, McPherson set 22 school records, led the nation in passing yards, and won more than 18 national “player of the year” awards—including the Maxwell Award as the nation’s best player, the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, and the inaugural Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. In 2008 McPherson was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Upon retiring from pro football in 1994, Don joined Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society as National Director of Athletes in Service to America. There, he focused his work on the issue of “men’s violence against women”. By conducting workshops and lectures for more than 375 college campuses, community organizations, and national sports and violence prevention organizations, he emerged as a national leader and advocate for the prevention of sexual and domestic violence.
Don has twice testified before the United States Congress and has worked closely with the U.S. Departments of Education and Defense on issues of sexual violence in education and the military, respectively. He has provided commentary on numerous national news programs, was featured in O Magazine, and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Don also created and hosted “Training for Life” on MSG Varsity, a life-skills TV show that examined a myriad of social issues and sports. In 2012, Training for Life’s episode on “Sports Parenting” was nominated for an Emmy Award.
Don previously served as a board member for several national organizations including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the US National Committee for UN Women, and the National Football Foundation. He was also a member of the NCAA Task Force on Sexual Violence and the NCAA Board of Governors Commission to Combat Sexual Violence.
He received several honors in recognition of his service, including the Frederick Douglas Men of Strength Award, given by Men Can Stop Rape, Champions for Change, presented by Lifetime Television, the Creative Vision for Women’s Justice, presented by the Pace University Women’s Justice Center, and a Leadership Award from the National Center for Victims of Crime. Most recently Don received the George Arents Award, Syracuse University’s highest alumni honor, and “Letter Winner of Distinction,” the highest honor bestowed a former student-athlete.
Currently he serves on the board of directors of the NYC Chapter of the National Football Foundation and, is a member of the advisory board of Press Forward and the Vital Voices Solidarity Council. His vision for PCAR is engaging men in preventing sexual violence.