Its hard to believe but for years, black quarterbacks were not given their due in the NFL. Many came to Canada to play in the CFL, with Warren Moon probably being the most well known because of his ties here to Edmonton. We found a fantastic article on black quarterbacks, their ties to Canada and the CFL and the impact that those ties have made to our counterparts…the NFL.
Canadian Football League was a refuge and proving ground for pioneering black quarterbacks
BY KEVIN PARRISH JR.
The NFL has undoubtedly been the year of the black quarterback in 2019. Lamar Jackson. Russell Wilson. Patrick Mahomes. And others.
They are the game’s future. But it took generations to get to this point.
The league did not always embrace African Americans the way it does now. In 1933 the “gentleman’s agreement” — a consensus among NFL owners not to hire black players was in effect. In 1946, the Cleveland Rams were in the process of relocating to the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the active local NAACP and black newspapers pressured the franchise to integrate their California football team.
That led the organization to sign Kenny Washington, an All-American from UCLA, who became the first black player to receive an NFL contract.
Even as more and more black men joined the league, they were still treated as less than. White NFL coaches often viewed black quarterbacks with skepticism when it came to intellect, leadership and physicality. When black quarterbacks demonstrated athleticism with tremendous speed, they were moved to positions that required quickness — wide receiver, running back and defensive back.
Black signal-callers recognized their skills were limited in the NFL, but the CFL presented a more attractive and realistic opportunity to showcase their talents.
“Many interconnected factors made Canada more attractive for black QBs: first was the country’s willingness to open its borders to quarterbacks disenfranchised by American racism,” said Karen Flynn, an associate professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. “The United States had this shameful history of slavery, KKK and Jim Crow. Canada, on the other hand, was more benevolent as a nation — that welcomed fugitive slaves — free blacks and loyalists via the Underground Railroad. No doubt, QBs who opted to play in Canada were somewhat aware of this narrative.”
However, it is a mistake to assume that Canada is without racism. The country is a white settled colony-occupying member of the Commonwealth with a long history of mistreating its original inhabitants. African American players from the United States said they didn’t experience any racism.
“I never dealt with any racism on the field or off the field — from players or fans. It was an amazing experience to feel that my race was no issue with the teams I played on, and the communities I lived in — even to this day,” Hall of Famer Chuck Ealey said.
“That was so refreshing about playing in Canada. The people were so accepting,” Hall of Famer Warren Moon said.
At least 82 African Americans have played quarterback in the CFL since 1958.
The most famous alumnus quarterback is Moon, the only player inducted into both the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
CLICK HERE to read the rest of this fantastic article on Warren Moon and how his success encouraged aspiring black quarterbacks to consider playing in Canada and use it as a route to the NFL.
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