George Floyd was a 46-year-old African American man who was killed when the white arresting officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him to the ground with his knee on his neck. Philando Castile. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. And now, George Floyd. Black men and women are being killed and everything points to institutional racism and white privilege covering it up. We need to get at the root cause of this pain.
Why am I, a white sports fan writing about this? Because for too long I have been quiet and have enjoyed the talent and labour of black men in professional sports and have not done enough to fight for their equality in society.
The CFL has a long history of celebrating diversity and indeed has a long record of being a league that did not judge people based on their race. Indeed, a terrific article by Sunni Khalid for The Undefeated, really illuminates how the CFL has been a leader as a sports league in equality: Bernie Custis was the first black man to start as a professional quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1951; the CFL has had more than 100 African-American quarterbacks, including famously Warren Moon; In 1980, Willie Wood was the CFL’s first black head coach, nearly a decade before the NFL; and former commissioner Jeffrey Orridge was the first black man to lead a professional sports league in North America. This is not to say that racism is not an issue in the CFL or in Canada, it definitely is, but it does mean that the CFL is further along than the NFL and we as fans need to keep pushing them.
The CFL like the NBA and the NFL is a league whose majority of players are black, and it is time for all CFL fans to realize that cheering for their team means they must do more to help. Sometimes people wonder where they can start or what they can do, as the problem of racism is so pervasive and intimidating. But that only leads to inaction and in truth there are many resources for people to make tangible, societal differences. You do not have to invent steps, there are many people who have spent a lot of time researching and preparing; I have adapted five steps that are specific to me as a sports fan from “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” written by Corinne Shutack for the website Medium.
A) Donate to anti-white supremacy work in the city you live in. Research who is doing the work to try and change society in your city and support them with your money. There are always many groups that desperately need your financial support, so you can pick the focus that means the most to you but if you spend money supporting a sports team, you should spend money on fighting racism. For me, the Toronto Chapter of Black Lives Matter is the group I support but even a casual Google search will reveal other worthy organizations.
B) Watch the documentary 13th by filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma and A Wrinkle in Time) about racial injustice in America. It is a powerful film and one that I defy anyone to watch and not be angered and inspired to fight for equality after having viewed it and it is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch it and suggest it to your sports fan friends. We all have a lot of time on our hands and this is a great opportunity to expand people’s minds. And if you are watching TV, try the recent HBO series, Watchmen. It educates about the Tulsa Race Massacre and white supremacy in a stylish and ingenious way and it is currently streaming on Crave.
C) Use social media for good. Listen to the players. Last podcast we highlighted a few great follows on the Argos: Natey Adjei (@Tey11_) and Juwan Brescacin (@JBrescacin11) are just two suggestions. Read players twitter timelines. Read the articles they repost. Listen to their personal experiences. Yes, so much of social media is superficial or even damaging to a society but there is a wealth of information and perspective available to fans right now. Retweet and like articles. Amplify information that helps educate people to what is happening in society and what needs to happen moving forward.
D) Add to your library of sites that you read and listen to. Many of us who love sports have a collection of sources that we go to daily for updates and for great reads. Add in byblacks, Blavity, The Root, The Grio, and The Undefeated. Each of these sites have fantastic articles that let you learn more about the perspective of the black community.
E) My last is the simplest and the hardest. Talk to your friends about the issues. If you have friends who aren’t upset by white supremacy, let them know you see a problem and be open to discussing things in a non judgemental but constructive way. Many of us have people in our lives who are not willing to discuss or change how they think but we can’t give up on them or in trying to help them consider new ideas or new media.
Obviously, this is not the end of what we can all do. Consider: volunteering for social justice organizations or just in your community; contacting your representative at all three levels of government and letting them know that fighting racial inequality is a priority for you; adding any books by James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates to your bookshelf or White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo. It is an ongoing process for us all and I hope it starts now.