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Johnny Bright, 1962 Topps CFL card

In the history of African Americans in the Canadian Football League (CFL), Black players and coaches received opportunities at a time when their counterparts in National Football League (NFL) still faced barriers.



Prior to World War II African American athletes were barred from playing in major professional sports leagues. Although the NFL color barrier officially fell in 1946 — quickly followed by the Baseball color line one year later when Jackie Robinson made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers — these events were just the beginning of the struggles for African American athletes. Racial integration proceeded very slowly over the next two decades, and economists have shown that African Americans continued to suffer from various forms of discriminatory treatment. Beginning in 1946, a steady flow of African Americans began to migrate to the Canadian Football League which, at the time, was a legitimate competitor league to the NFL.[1]

CFL firsts



In 1946, Montreal Alouettes GM Lew Hayman brought in Herb Trawick, making Trawick the first Black player in the CFL.[2] Hayman, a New York City-born Jew, saw the way that Montealers had embraced Jackie Robinson with the Montreal Royals and believed the city was ready to accept a Black football player.[3]

In 1964, Tom Casey became the first Black player inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, three years before New York Giant Emlen Tunnell became the first black player in the NFL's Pro Football Hall of Fame.[2]


As Toronto Argonauts president in 1980, Heyman also hired Willie Wood as the first black head coach in the CFL. It was nine more years until Art Shell became the first black coach in the National Football League, with the 1989 Oakland Raiders. Michael Clemons served as the first black head coach in the Grey Cup, two years prior to Tony Dungy coaching in the Super Bowl.[2]

General managers

General Manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders from December 24, 1999 until August 21, 2006, Roy Shivers was the first Black general manager in professional football.[4]

Black quarterbacks

African American quarterbacks were commonplace in the CFL in the 1970s, two decades before they would become prominent in the NFL.[1]

Undrafted in the NFL, Warren Moon won five Grey Cups in six seasons before excelling in the NFL, helping to erase the prejudice that black quarterbacks could not succeed in professional football. By the time Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins became the first black quarterback in the history of the Super Bowl in 1988, the CFL had already seen such players as Moon, Damon Allen, Roy Dewalt, Danny Barrett, J.C. Watts, Condredge Holloway and Chuck Ealey in Grey Cup games.[2]

Johnny Bright

Drake University star Johnny Bright – the victim of a racist assault in what is now known as the Johnny Bright Incident – turned down an offer to play for Philadelphia Eagles, who chose him fifth overall in the 1952 National Football League draft. Bright elected to sign with the Calgary Stampeders instead, later commenting:

I would have been their (the Eagles') first Negro player. There was a tremendous influx of Southern players into the NFL at that time, and I didn't know what kind of treatment I could expect.[5]

In 1959, following his third straight season as the CFL's rushing leader, Bright won the CFL's Most Outstanding Player Award, the first Black CFL player to be so honored.

Benefits to league

The CFL gained advantages through the recruitment of Black players. African American players in the CFL outperformed their white counterparts in a number of areas. CFL teams that employed the highest percentage of African Americans were those teams that had the most on-field success.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Longley, Neil; Todd Crosset, Steve Jefferson (June 2007). "The Migration of African Americans to the Canadian Football League during the mid-20th Century: An Escape from Discrimination?". IASE/NAASE Working Paper Series, Paper No. 07-13 Conference Papers. Retrieved 2009-09-20.  
  2. ^ a b c d Stein, Jaime (February 09, 2007). "Celebrating Black History Month". Canadian Football League. Retrieved 2009-09-20.  
  3. ^ Bell-Webster, Josh. "Herb Trawick". Canadian Football League. Retrieved 2009-09-21.  
  4. ^ Maragos, Costa (2004). "Roy Shivers: Football First". (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 2009-09-21.  
  5. ^ Soutar, Ted. "CFL Legend: Johnny Bright". Retrieved August 12, 2006.  



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