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You Throw Like a Girl:
Former Quarterback Questions Masculinity
Stereotypes and How They Can Foster Violence Against Women

By Ioana Patrigenaru | April 24, 2006

Former NFL quarterback Don McPherson interacts with his audience during a talk about violence against women Tuesday at the Price Center.

What does it mean to be a man? Why do little boys get so upset when you tell them they throw like a girl? And how does this kind of language lead to violence against women?

Former NFL quarterback Don McPherson tried to answer these questions, and more, Tuesday night at UCSD. He had been invited to speak on campus by the Women’s Center, the Student Safety Awareness and Sexual Assault Resource Center and the athletics department..

Staff members at the Women’s Center realized they needed to work hand in hand with like-minded men to address the issue of violence against women, said center Director Emelyn dela Pena. She had seen McPherson on the Oprah Winfrey Show and said she thought he would be the perfect choice for this event.

“We wanted to bring a speaker who could talk the talk and walk the walk in ways that men could relate to,” dela Pena said.

McPherson’s talk comes at a time when violence against women perpetrated by athletes is making national headlines again, after two Duke lacrosse players were charged with rape and kidnapping. Their attorneys have said the two men are innocent. The two players are white and wealthy. Their alleged victim is black and a single mother.

The Duke case shows how communities don’t talk about their problems until something bad happens, McPherson said. The arrests have sparked a discussion about violence, race and class, but these issues had always been there, he said.

That case also is an example how homophobia and violence against women are linked, he said later. One of the players charged with rape had been charged last year with beating a man after calling him gay, McPherson said.

But most of McPherson’s talk focused on the idea of masculinity. He tried to engage the lone five men in an audience of about 40 people. He asked them: what does it mean to be a man? They were reluctant at first, but slowly warmed up and offered suggestions: be tough, don’t cry, shake it off, be independent. McPherson wrote their answers inside a square box on a white board. Then he asked the men what they would be called if they stepped out of the box? Words like loser, wimp, sissy and worse came up, many of them homophobic or misogynic. These words are part of a whole discourse implying that women are inferior to men, McPherson said. That, in turn, leads to violence, he said.

Historically, violence against women has always been considered a women’s issue. That simply allowed men to ignore it – and that’s wrong, McPherson said.

“It’s a men’s issue,” he told his audience. “We are part of the solution when we speak up about it.”

To address the issue of violence against women effectively, men need to start talking to one another and confront misogyny, especially in the absence of women, McPherson said. Men also have to work with women and get in touch with their emotions, he added.  

“It’s not a matter of getting in touch with your feminine side,” he said. “It’s about men being whole individuals.”

McPherson is executive director of the Sports Leadership Institute at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. He trains student athletes to mobilize their classmates, parents and school districts to prevent violence, substance abuse, teasing and bullying. He also works with students to boost their grades and self esteem. He has served as a consultant for many organizations, including the Justice Department’s "Agenda for the Nation on Violence against Women."

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