Tony Pashos Continues Legacy of Service, Leadership with Donation to Manteno High School
The grind of an NFL player is never ending. For all intents and purposes, it’s a year-round sport where if you’re not playing, you’re practicing, training, in the film room, etc. Yet somehow, Tony Pashos finds himself in the position where he is actually busier since his retirement than during his 10 years in the league. Some of that comes with the usual pressures of striving to be the best husband and father he can for his family, but a large portion of his time is devoted to something he’s been doing his whole life: giving back to the community.
This weekend, Tony Pashos will be donating $10,000 to the Manteno High School football program as a part of a matching grant program through the NFL Foundation. It’s not the first time that Pashos has given generously, whether it be with his checkbook or with his time. It won’t even be the first time he is giving back to a high school.
Rooted in Giving
Since he was young, Tony witnessed the importance of paying goodwill forward. An immigrant from Greece, he saw not only how the community helped his family in their time of transition, but also how his mother and father would lend a helping hand to others in need. He also received support from his teachers and coaches, who complemented what he was already learning at home with their lessons on the field and in the classroom. It instilled in him a belief that would stick with him long past his high school days and into his time as professional football player.
Of course, he did have veteran teammates to guide him on his path. “When I came into the NFL,” he says, “a lot of our guys, from Ray Lewis to the lesser-known guys on the roster, everyone was doing something, from Habitat for Humanity to (holiday) events. I can’t say enough about how many requests there were for us as football players. Some of the newer and younger guys were inspired by the fact that the future Hall of Famers on our team were spending time in the community.”
Over the course of his career with six different NFL teams, Pashos spent his time in various activities like visiting local hospitals, participating in walks for various charitable functions and even dressing up as Santa and shopping for Christmas presents with kids with tough backgrounds.
“Many times,” Pashos says, “we would go over the limit on how much we can spend, but there is no way we could return anything in the cart so we would just pay the remainder to help the kids have a joyful Christmas as well.”
Eventually, in 2007, he founded Pashos’ Pals to gain a more consistent bond with the community, and work with the Guardian Ad Litem program to speak for the best interests of abused, abandoned or neglected children in the court system. In 2009, he was named one of the 10 finalists for the Byron “Whizzer” White Award, the highest honor the NFLPA can bestow on a player and recognizes the player who excels at serving his team, community and country.
Continued Philanthropy After Retirement
This generous spirit hasn’t left him even now that he’s retired. If anything, he’s devoted even more of his time and effort into doing what he can do help communities. This donation to Manteno is not his first time giving back to a high school, as his former varsity coach can attest.
“Tony has been a regular presence in our program since he graduated,” says Coach Joe Cunnane, who was Pashos’s coach during his days at Lockport Township High School in Illinois. Since Pashos’s time there, his donations have helped improve the program’s stadium, team equipment, and weight room. But he makes sure to spend some time there physically as well.
Pashos is no stranger to being a team’s leader. He served as an NFLPA Player Representative for three different clubs – the San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. The position is voted on by the locker room and serves as a voice for players in all union activities.
“His senior year at the University of Illinois, he was the person that gave the pre-game talk prior to our first football state championship,” Cunnane says. “He has been a motivational speaker and presence at team functions and a constant reminder of what is possible with work and passion.”
Though Tony Pashos never played at Manteno High School, he lives in the area now and believes it is important to keep the football program there thriving. The former offensive lineman knows all about how important a team and proper coaching can be, because without them, he would have never found himself in the NFL.
“I had never played football before, and I wasn’t very good,” says Pashos. “I just wish we had iPhones or film that could have documented how far I came, because I’d rather show students that. They see you, and they’re like, ‘Wow, an NFL player,’ and I wasn’t the natural. I was an overachiever.”
As for what he hopes comes out of his donation, Pashos talks about how important a football team can be to its community.
“You definitely want everyone to get behind the kid – the booster program, everyone’s who contributing – and pass it down to benefit the school,” he says. “It helps the community overall and directly impacts every aspect of a young person’s life. It really helps guide them into being better contributors and better people.”
Sharing a Humbling Message
If there’s one thing that he wishes he could impart to the students who may pass through the halls of Manteno High School and play on the field, it’s this: “I wish they could see the struggle I went through of learning English as my second language and my struggle to succeed in the classroom. My being a better student really helped my career because I could understand the playbook better, the angles, the schemes, what’s being asked of me. Being coached is no different than being taught. The better student I became, the better player I was.”
When not actively spending his time in the community, Tony Pashos is gearing up to apply and attend law school, after which he hopes to pursue a career as an advocate for former players or just helping those without a voice. He isn’t too worried about what may follow down the road.
“Once you play in the NFL, who cares what people say is difficult? That was difficult, this is much more achievable,” says Pashos.
With his past experiences, it is safe to surmise that no matter what path he follows, he will be doing his part to lift up and inspire those around him.
-- David Chough