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Orlondo Steinauer speaks of trail blazers. Corey Chamblin mentioned the open door that the CFL has long had. DeVone Claybrooks thinks about where he is now and the future that he’d like to shape.
Black History Month kicked off, of course, on Friday, Feb. 1 and the CFL is proud to acknowledge its past, where, as Chamblin says, the door has been opened for many firsts for African-American players.
Chamblin, Steinauer and Claybrooks were hired as head coaches by Toronto, Hamilton and BC, respectively, within days of one another in December, very quickly making one-third of the head coaches in the league African-Americans. All three spoke about their hires while at Mont-Tremblant Que. last month. They also looked at the CFL’s history, being an important part of its present and the league’s future.
“There are those people that blazed a trail, with (Condredge) Holloway and Bernie Custis,” Steinauer said. Custis was the first African-American quarterback to play professional football; Holloway was the first African-American QB to play in the SEC, but was drafted into the NFL in 1975 as a defensive back. He was a QB in the CFL for 13 years.
“I was fortunate to be around Bernie. He was kind of a mentor for me,” Steinauer continued.
“I wasn’t aware of the history of Bernie Custis until I was in the Hamilton organization but what a great soul, what a great person, what a great man. Chuck Ealey (the first African-American QB to win a Grey Cup), those type of guys. They’re trail blazers and the opportunity they were afforded up here, they paved the way for us.”
“I think Canada and the CFL has always had an open door,” Chamblin said.
“It’s about having diversity. If you look at, if it wasn’t for that open door some of those guys wouldn’t be the stars that they are today. And if it wasn’t for the open door, guys like myself wouldn’t have the opportunity that we have today.”
This month provides the league’s two African-American GMs a chance to similarly reflect on where they are and what’s in front of them.
“I’m trying to be the best GM that I can be; not the best black GM. I just happen to be African-American,” BC GM Ed Hervey said.
“But I also don’t want to mess the opportunity up for someone who aspires to have this opportunity or this job in the future.
“I’m extremely proud of the fact that I’m an African-American and doing this job but I’m also proud of those out there who are doing the job and paving the way for us and showing great professional responsibility to the positions that they have and are showing grace in the positions they have, so the next person that comes in can have an opportunity.”
Montreal Alouettes GM Kavis Reed said he often thinks back to the sacrifices the people around him made as he grew up in rural South Carolina. That’s helped shape his approach to his career.
“All of my world was black growing up, all-black schools,” Reed said.
“(For) me personally, growing up in a family where my mom was the person that was the leader. She worked very hard to put us through school and worked very hard to make sure that our essentials were provided for us.
“She instilled the understanding that you’re in control of your destiny if you do things the right way, you stay true to yourself. How my grandfather never made excuses for an adverse situation that he had.
“If you look at a lot of the minority leaders that we’ve had…the one common theme is, ‘Don’t make an excuse, be true to yourself, write your own history.’
“You’re not just trying to be the best African-American GM. You’re trying to be the best at what you do and that’s an example for all.”
“We’re the examples of what the future of our race is as far as getting these opportunities,” Hervey said. “I firmly believe that.”