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Randy’s Word: Celebrating diversity

Diversity is Strength.

You will see that phrase emblazoned on special t-shirts worn across the CFL this month and featured in a deep online and social media campaign.

For us, this is much more than a tag line. It is integral to what we cherish in our game, our league and our country.

Football is the ultimate team game. A team needs people of almost every shape, size, skill and speed — all dedicated to doing their part  — for a play to succeed and the group to advance.

(I experienced football’s inclusive nature first hand many years ago when I showed up for my first tryout. I loved all sports but I was the “big kid”, so always just a little out of place.  Football made me feel welcomed and was the first game that really loved me back.)

As well, our league has a long history of providing opportunities to players of diverse backgrounds and who, in some cases,  have been denied those chances elsewhere.

From Bernie Custis, the first black quarterback in professional football to Normie Kwong, our first Chinese-Canadian player, to Pasquale “Wally” Buono, who came to Canada from Italy and found his place on the gridiron, to Jo-Anne Polak, the first female General Manager of a pro football team, the CFL has a proud history of inclusion. (I feel compelled to add that while proud, we can make no claim to perfection: Custis, for example, was a successful QB who was eventually shifted to running back.)

We are also proudly Canadian and this belief, that our individual differences can make the group stronger, is something that has made our country, while also imperfect, the envy of much of the world.

So to us, diversity is a cornerstone of our game, our league and the place we call home.

That is why a year ago we were already planning the first phase of a Diversity Is Strength campaign when events south of the border prompted us to roll it out early. After a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent, and a young woman was killed, our teams first donned grey DIS t-shirts that our fans quickly clamoured to buy, with proceeds going to community projects.

And it is why this season’s Phase Two of the DIS campaign — featuring t-shirts in team colours and bearing the names of leaders like Custis, Kwong, Buono  and Polak — is underway now.

While world events can make our message feel more poignant, this is not a protest. It is a celebration. We are celebrating that which makes football, the CFL and Canada.

CFL.CA/DIS FEATURES THE STORIES OF CFL PERSONALITIES WHO BROKE BARRIERS, CHANGING OUR LEAGUE AND HELPING TO CHANGE SOCIETY … READ MORE.

We want to showcase what is true and best about our league. At the same time, we want to invite new fans, from every community,  whether they are Canadians by birth or Canadians by choice, into our stadiums and into the CFL family.

As I recently told a group of social media influencers on one of our occasional conference calls, we want our fans to not just wear our DIS t-shirts but to “rep their roots” in any way they like.

In our stadiums and on our social media channels, we want to send a clear message that even if you have never been to a game before, the CFL will not only accept you — it will celebrate you.

You should know that not everyone loves this approach. I get some angry letters from people threatening to stop coming to our games because of it. They usually claim that “unity, not diversity, is Strength”. Some even suggest I am parroting certain politicians.
Believe me, in sports and business, I have seen the power of unity and I embrace it. But unity does not mean uniformity. And we are not flying anyone’s banner other than our own.

What we are doing, proudly and as loudly as we can, is saying that what makes each of us different can make all of us stronger, that if you come to our stadiums, you will be more than welcome — you will truly belong.

And we invite you to join us!