BC Lions wide receiver Bryan Burnham (16) runs the ball in first quarter CFL action against the Argonauts, in Toronto on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Burnham wasn't shocked when his fellow CFL players recounted their personal stories of experiencing racism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Work still needs to be done to tackle racial injustice: CFL players

Work still needs to be done to tackle racial injustice: CFL players

Bryan Burnham wasn’t shocked when his fellow CFL players recounted their personal stories of experiencing racism.

The B.C. Lions wide receiver knows there are too many stories to be told.

“It’s disappointing to hear, but it definitely wasn’t surprising,” he said in an interview from his home in Tulsa, Okla. “I think you could go through every locker room and talk to any Black player and they would have a story about some kind of discrimination that they’ve had.”

Burnham joined players, coaches and alumni from around the league for a virtual discussion about diversity and racial justice Wednesday as part of the CFL’s Grey Cup Unite festival.

Some of the stories shared were “pretty crazy,” Burnham said.

Natey Adjei, a wide receiver for the Toronto Argonauts, talked about when, at 14 years old, he was taken down by heavily armed police with a semi automatic weapon pressed into his back as he left his home on the way to football practice.

Blue Bombers defensive lineman Jackson Jeffcoat told the group about the nervousness he felt after being pulled over for “driving while Black” a few years ago.

Vontae Diggs, a linebacker for Edmonton, shared a memory of walking into an IHOP while on a college visit and realizing no one in the restaurant looked like him.

“We’re standing there looking around and, I tell you, you can hear a mouse walking in that place,” Diggs said. “It was one of the most freakishly scary moments of my life, where I really for a second didn’t think we was going to walk out because the look of disgust was on every single face in that facility.”

It’s disappointing that talking about racial inequality and injustice is still necessary, Burnham said

“I thought we were past this as a country,” he said.

Protests and calls for action on racial injustice swept across not only the United States but the world earlier this year after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minn.

For Nate Behar, former wide receiver for the Ottawa Redblacks, the reaction was difficult to take.

“It’s hard as a man sitting here to see that outcry and hear that outcry and hear people with their hollow statements of like ‘I can’t believe something like this would happen,’” he told the panel. “The first thing that always comes to my mind whenever I hear anything like that is what selective blindness have you decided to live with that this surprises you? Disgusts you, for sure, but surprise?”

Black people have been oppressed for generations and the best revenge they can get is to live well, Diggs said.

“We’re just going to have to keep levelling up every single time that they want to keep shutting us down. And that’s what we keep doing,” he said.

Many of the panellists agreed that it’s important to continue talking about race and making sure that those who have promised to make changes follow through.

Businesses are going to say whatever needs to be said to keep people using their products and services, said former Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive tackle Terence Campbell.

“But are (the businesses) really hiring more people of colour?” said Campbell, now a police officer in San Jose, Cal. “Are you taking the time out to really understand and open up your heart to realize what’s going on, to be a part of the change? Are you really becoming part of the change?”

More can be done to help Black people advance in the CFL, too, said Adjei.

The league already has measures to help Canadian athletes succeed and similar programs could be created to help Black players and staff, he said.

Black men like Argos general manager Michael “Pinball” Clemons and Ed Hervey (former general manager of the Edmonton Football Club and B.C. Lions) have already shown that it’s possible to reach the top of the league, said Jason Shivers.

“But we need those people to start training the next generation,” said Shivers, defensive coordinator for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “It’s not like we’re saying ‘Oh, there’s not other people who wouldn’t be good interns, too.’ We just know it doesn’t happen that fast for people of our skin tone or our colour and whatnot.”

Black people don’t want to be singled out, they simply want to be equal, said Khari Jones, head coach of the Montreal Alouettes.

When Jones first came to the CFL, he knew the league had seen other Black quarterbacks so his race wasn’t an issue in the same way it had been in the U.S.

“I knew if I succeeded, I succeeded on my own terms, if I didn’t succeed, I didn’t succeed on my own terms. If a coach didn’t like me, it wasn’t going to be because I was Black,” he said. “I didn’t have that feeling. And that’s all anybody wants.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

CFL

Just Posted

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

Pumpjacks draw oil out of the ground near Olds, Alta., Thursday, July 16, 2020. A new report suggests the economic impact of the pandemic led to a massive increase in federal aid to Canada's oil patch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta economy ‘still reeling,’ says ATB Financial

Alberta’s economy is still feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and… Continue reading

Ella Stoner, five, is ready to cut off her hair and donate it to A Child’s Voice Foundation. (Photo by Lauren Stoner Photography)
Central Alberta girl to donate her ‘princess hair’ to A Child’s Voice Foundation

A five-year-old girl from Rimbey has never had a haircut before. Now,… Continue reading

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta adds 1,195 new COVID-19 cases Saturday

Red Deer has dropped to 760 active cases

The Minnesota Wild celebrate their overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of a first-round NHL hockey playoff series Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)
Eriksson Ek’s OT goal lifts Wild past Vegas 1-0

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joel Eriksson Ek’s goal at 3:20 of overtime… Continue reading

Toronto Blue Jays' Lourdes Gurriel Jr., celebrates after hitting a double against the Philadelphia Phillies during the third inning of a baseball game Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Dunedin, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Girardi, Segura have confrontation as Phils lose to Jays

Blue Jays 10 Phillies 8 DUNEDIN, Fla. (AP) — The injury-depleted Philadelphia… Continue reading

New York Islanders' Kyle Palmieri (21) returns to the bench after scoring during the first period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh, Sunday, May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Palmieri’s OT winner lifts Isles by Penguins 4-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The New York Islanders brought Kyle Palmieri home at… Continue reading

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing to examine an update from Federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19, Tuesday, May 11, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)
Fauci says pandemic exposed ‘undeniable effects of racism’

ATLANTA (AP) — The immunologist who leads the COVID-19 response in the… Continue reading

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined

OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government is facing growing calls for answers… Continue reading

Conservative MP Ron Liepert rises during Question Period on Parliament Hill, Friday, March 10, 2017 in Ottawa. Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails from people wanting to talk about his party's climate plan have slowed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Alberta MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner

OTTAWA — Ron Liepert says these days, the phone calls and emails… Continue reading

A sign marks Stairs Place in the Hydrostone district in the North end of Halifax on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The street was named for William Grant Stairs, a Canadian explorer from Halifax who helped lead some of the most controversial expeditions through the African continent. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Where the streets have explorers’ names, some Halifax residents call for change

HALIFAX — When builders created Halifax’s distinctive Hydrostone neighbourhood more than a… Continue reading

Riley Oldford, 16, suffers from cerebral palsy. He was the first youth in the Northwest Territories to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Here he receives the needle from nurse practitioner Janie Neudorf in Yellowknife on Thursday May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Braden
People with disabilities even more alone during pandemic: cerebral palsy spokeswoman

YELLOWKNIFE — Riley Oldford is usually out playing sledge hockey or hanging… Continue reading

Most Read