Diane and Michael Pinball Clemons © Skylite Images Fine Art Photo Studio
“If you want to show me a truly great person, don’t show me awards, money, or power,” declared Michael “Pinball” Clemons. “Show me what that person has done for someone else. Therein lies true greatness.”
It’s a message that he seems to embody in everything he does. With seven championships under his belt, the American-Canadian sports executive is one of the most distinct faces in Canadian football, and his impact on and off the field is a testament to his passion.
Nicknamed “Pinball” for his ability to effortlessly dodge would-be tacklers, the CFL legend’s career is proof of his boundless energy—which he continuously uses for good. Now the General Manager of the Toronto Argonauts, the team and city he’s called home for so many years, Michael continues to share his infectious enthusiasm on the gridiron—but his impact extends far beyond the field.
In 2006, he co-created the Pinball Clemons Foundation (PCF) with his wife, Diane Lee Clemons. With a wealth of fulfilling career opportunities and mentorship for engaged youth and years of grateful alumni, the PCF is proving that the power of education and hope can make an incredible impact—and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.
A Family Matter
Twice honoured with the CFL’s Man of the Year Award, adorned with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for Community Service, and a member of the Order of Ontario, Michael’s career is dotted with incredible achievements.
But a family man through and through, he says that his greatest joys have been his roles as husband and father—and his greatest inspiration has always been his mother, Anna Bryant.
“She was always there for me,” he said. “She only ever missed one football game, and her absence was for a church meeting.”
Michael shared that his mother demanded excellence in all areas—a fact he looks back on fondly, although he confesses that he did sneak a few Cs between his long line of As and Bs.
“Presence, excellence, and loyalty was the anthem she lived right before my eyes,” he said.
It’s an anthem that Michael continues to sing with his own family, supported steadfastly by Diane. A Juno nominee, TV and radio host, actress, and motivational speaker, Diane says that family plays a significant role in their work.
“My parents instilled in me the importance of compassion, empathy, and giving back to society,” she explained. “They taught me to be mindful of the needs of others and to use my resources and abilities to make a positive difference. They remind me of the power of hope, resilience, and the belief that even small actions can create meaningful change.”
Growing up in a family of 10, Diane remembers that it wasn’t always easy for her parents, making their commitment to giving much more meaningful.
“Even though we didn’t have much, I remember my mom always inviting entire families to dinner,” she recalled. “My mom volunteered with the community service at church and always welcomed anyone to our home that needed a bite to eat or just a listening ear. It sparked a desire within me to want to give back in my own way!”
Looking back, Diane shared that family values, both from her upbringing and her husband’s, have informed how they have raised their children.
“From the time they could walk and talk, we’ve involved our girls in giving back and tried to nurture the values of empathy and compassion,” she explained. “They’ve visited shelters, joined us on our trips to Haiti and Africa, and are often present when we work in our community. We’ve tried to instill in them a lifelong commitment to positively impacting the world around them. More importantly, we’ve tried to lead by example by including them in our work.”
With family and faith as guiding principles, the couple, who were awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for their work, have turned their passion for giving into a foundation that is making a difference in the lives of young people.
Giving is Living
According to Michael, the PCF has one goal: to see hope in the eyes of every child. A career of winning and a lifetime of aiming for success has uniquely positioned him to lead the next generation of youth to greatness.
“My experience as a professional athlete has made the foundation more focused on results, garnering consistent, sustainable outcomes that lead to independence for youth coming from underserved communities,” the former All-Star running back said. “We provide young adults with financial assistance, mentorship throughout their time in post-secondary or micro-credential programming, in-house mental health supports, and career development counselling. The program also provides a job within 45 days of graduation.”
The focus on sustainability is paramount: the PCF is not a helping hand but a set of building blocks for a brighter future, with ongoing support to keep youth on track.
Michael explained that youth have multiple levels of support, including a staff social worker, round-the-clock contact with their mentor, and career development support.
“We have incorporated a winning philosophy that embodies effort, education, and performance, maintaining a ‘help each other be right, not wrong’ mentality that challenges students to be their best,” Michael said.
The Future of Youth
The PCF’s programming is comprehensive, taking care to equip students with the tools they need to succeed. The Clemons explained that the wrap-around support is multi-faceted. It includes online reviews to get to know the students’ needs, guidance to help them manage their workload, and mentorship to support them through schooling to graduation.
Michael shares that along this path, the PCF also brokers internships and structures career development, including resume prep, mock interviews, and workplace etiquette. This model continues to adapt to students’ needs as situations arise. The new alumni program speaks to the unique demands of making and saving money and exploring career options as students become young professionals.
The You(th) Lead Conference, organized by the PCF, works to further this mission. Post-secondary students and business executives gather for a networking event where students can ask questions and converse with professional speakers, influencers, celebrities, executives, and industry leaders from Canada’s top companies.
“This platform provides our students with a unique opportunity to be in a room with leaders they may otherwise be unable to meet at this stage in their lives,” Diane explained. “And while the students have a great time, it may be said that executives have an even better one—there is nothing like being in a room of young people who are fueled by a lust for life and a passion for progress.”
The PCF will hold the fourth annual You(th) Lead Conference on November 25th at Hotel X in Toronto, kicking off a very busy season for the Clemons—the season of giving!
On December 6th, join Michael, Diane, and friends at Christmas with the Clemons at Roy Thompson Hall in downtown Toronto. The event will feature musical and artistic performances guaranteed to get you and your family in the Christmas spirit.
“Hosted by Michael and featuring performances by myself and friends, who in the past have included Jully Black, the Three Tenors, Keyshia Chante, and many more, this is an event that our foundation family now looks forward to annually,” said Diane. “I love this event. What better way to start the holiday season than by giving back to the tune of some of our favourite jingles?”
Tickets for Christmas with the Clemons go on sale on September 1st, but the mission to transform education is year-round. Visit pinballfoundation.ca to learn more and help provide marginalized and racialized youth with mentorship, education, and employment.