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Coaches get an education at Coaching Boys Into Men Summit

Chris Harlan
| Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017, 9:30 p.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talks to coaches and players during the Coaching Boys into Men Summit at St. Vincent College on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talks to coaches and players during the Coaching Boys into Men Summit at St. Vincent College on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Players Taiwan LaRue and Davonte Williams, left, with Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, listen to speakers during the Coaching Boys into Men Summit during the Steelers Training Camp at St. Vincent College on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Players Taiwan LaRue and Davonte Williams, left, with Sto-Rox High School in McKees Rocks, listen to speakers during the Coaching Boys into Men Summit during the Steelers Training Camp at St. Vincent College on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017.

It was in 1994, during what Don McPherson calls the "Summer of O.J.," that the retired quarterback first became an advocate against domestic violence.

"The world came to a standstill as we watched a white Bronco travel down a southern California highway," McPherson said. "Everyone in the domestic violence world said this is going to change the conversation. It did nothing because we talked about the Bronco. We talked about, 'if it don't fit, you must acquit.' All of that nonsense. We still talk about O.J. Do you know how many women have been murdered since O.J.?"

Now, two decades later, McPherson says society talks more freely about domestic violence, especially after the high-profile instance that involved NFL running back Ray Rice. But to make significant progress, men need to have a more productive conversation that doesn't avoid uncomfortable areas, like "why do men do it in the first place?" he asked.

"The same problem that existed in 1994 existed in 2014," McPherson said, referencing Rice's arrest three years ago, "because we're not having a productive conversation about our role as men in this world."

The College Football Hall of Fame member was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the Coaching Boys Into Men Summit in Latrobe. The Syracuse alum and Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1987 is a former director of Northeastern University's Mentors in Violence Protection Program. He said he talked in recent weeks with college football teams at Miami, Fla., and Iowa State.

"I don't do this job because I don't want to see guys rape," McPherson said. "I want to see them have beautiful, loving relationships. I'm not looking for that low bar. When you coach, you don't coach just to win. You coach for excellence. … We're not just coaching boys not to do stuff. We're coaching boys to be whole, loving men."

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coaching assistant Dan Rooney also took part in the conference, which drew nearly 100 high school coaches and administrators to St. Vincent College.

Sponsored by the Steelers, FISA Foundation and the United Way of Southwestern Pa., the event was focused on respect for women. The afternoon also introduced schools to a Coaching Boys Into Men program that provides training tools intended to spark focused conversations between coaches and athletes.

McPherson urged young men to create a responsible locker room atmosphere with respect and responsibility, where women are respected like close family and masculinity isn't measured by reputation. He also advised youth coaches to check their own words and actions, insisting that a boy's respect for women can be shaped early in life.

"When you were a little boy, what was the worst insult you could hear? You're a girl. You throw like a girl. You run like a girl," he said. "Two things happen when you say that to a boy. The first message you hear is to man-up, stop acting like a little girl. … Don't be a sissy.

"The second message is that women and girls are 'less than,' " he added, "or it wouldn't be an insult."

Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac and his wife, Michelle, were among those in attendance at the Fred Rogers Center. Michelle Zmijanac is one of 25 members on Governor Tom Wolfe's Commission for Women.

"The idea of respect needs to be addressed," Mike Zmijanac said. "In our society, there's disrespect everywhere. … We talk about it all the time (as a team) because I have a female trainer. I've told the kids, it's a very short speech: 'You're to treat her like that's your mother or your sister. Let's move on.' They all got it."

The Coaching Boys Into Men curriculum, which features a series of discussion cards for coaches, could be useful for those who don't already have frank conversations with their players, Zmijanac said. More than two dozen Western Pennsylvania school districts and three colleges were listed as already using the CBIM materials.

"You don't want your young men involved in a situation," Kiski Area athletic director John Peterman said, "so you've got to find ways to approach the subject."

McPherson shared anecdotes from his time at Syracuse and with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he was the third-string quarterback behind Randall Cunningham. He spent seven seasons in the NFL and CFL.

"My rookie year, (Cunningham) was on the front page of Sports Illustrated as the ultimate weapon," said McPherson, who was a sixth-round pick. "You're the back-up to the back-up to the ultimate weapon. … Do you know how much time they spend with the third-string quarterback?

"Do you even know that you have a third-string quarterback?" he asked Colbert and Rooney with a laugh.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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