Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blast from the past: Don McPherson

Back in November, I attended my 20th year high-school reunion in Syracuse, New York, which turned out to be actually kinda fun.

Back then, my parents were students at Syracuse University which is how, even though I was in high school, I ended up living in the Syracuse University off-campus dorms.

During the summers, it felt like I had the place to myself, and I'd spend hours walking along the curved roads and gardens or suntanning on the green hills with my brothers and some friends, mostly the kids of other student families who lived in the area. You'd know that summer was over when the university's students descended on campus in a rush of vans and luggage, which also indicated the beginning of the high school year.

Still, there was a particular group of college students who always got there earlier than the rest: The university's roster of college athletes, including the football players who had to begin training early for the collegiate football season matches.

And so it was that during one one my strolls through the empty streets, I turned around a dorm building corner and ran smack into a group of huge football players that almost ran over me. It was almost comical how we all froze and stared at each other for a few seconds until Wayne, a wrestler, invited me to follow them.

Basically, they were taking advantage of some of the later student arrivals who were leaving their dorm rooms open as they moved in. They would enter the apartments as silently as they could, sneaking up behind the unsuspecting students and screaming at the top of their lungs, only to dash off running before the victim probably figured out what just had happened.

This is how I began an unlikely and long-lasting friendship with some of the players in the Syracuse University football team, including some of the guys that went on to be in the 1986 team that went 11-0 in the 1986 regular season.

That team was led by quarterback Don McPherson (pictured above) who finished second in the 1987 Heisman Trophy voting and who went on to play for the Philadelphia Eagles, among other teams.

At Syracuse, Don lived next door to my best friends then, Tom and John, and we'd hang out sometimes. Alas, the few times that we tossed a football on the street outside his apartment I'd always fumble. He was always friendly, just the nicest guy around.

Imagine my surprise today when I received an alert from Gender PAC, which usually addresses transgender issues, about a March 22nd event in Harlem that takes a look at a new documentary on hip-hop and homophobia, violence, sexism and violence, with a panel that includes Don.

Back in Syracuse I was still confused about my sexual identity and in no way out as a gay man. As a matter of fact part of the reason why I was scared to address my feelings was that I might be beaten to a pulp if some of my friends from back then found out. I am glad to say that eventually I did come out to some of them long after I had left Syracuse and that they were all great about it. But it still is great to see someone like Don participate in an event like this (the research I did today indicates that he has devoted his life to exploring issues relating to sexual violence, masculinity and femininity in general culture and tours the country as he addresses these issues).

The actual documentary, "Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes" airs TONIGHT on PBS.

I might just head to Harlem in March to see him speak up and, maybe, to say "hi" after all these years.

And, if you are wondering, no, Don wasn't among the original campus pranksters that I met that summer so many years ago.

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