In a better world there would be no need for the CFL to have a Diversity in Football Program.
Laurence Pontbriand believes the league has made strides in hiring visible minorities for front offices and in the coaching ranks but thinks more work can be done.
“If this program exists, it’s because there is a lack somewhere,” said Pontbriand, the CFL’s manager of football and officiating development. “We need to do it to really to give access to those positions to people from diverse backgrounds that would not typically have access.
“I’m hoping that in 20 years we don’t even need to talk about it anymore because we have an even more diverse league than what we have right now.”
The goal of the Diversity in Football Program, presented by Securian Canada, is to create a platform through which talented individuals are able to express their cultural knowledge, identities and experiences to contribute to the growth of Canadian football.
Nine participants will attend CFL team’s training camps to experience coaching, or the football and business operations sides of the league.
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“The purpose is really to give access to people from diverse backgrounds to the CFL clubs and create a relationship with those clubs and eventually maybe have them hired on their staff full time,” said Pontbriand.
“Having more diverse people working in our league, more women, would be the ultimate goal.”
Jabari Arthur, who spent eight seasons in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, was one of the successful applicants. Currently the offensive coordinator with the University of Calgary Dinos, he said the CFL program is important for opening the door for minorities.
“I would like to think it’s not a huge problem (but) even if it is, we’re working on it on a yearly basis by giving people who are visible minorities more opportunities,” said Arthur, who will attend training camp with the Stampeders.
“The more opportunities they have, the more chances there will be for them to grow and more opportunities for them to go through the ranking and create more diversity in key positions.”
Looking around the league, Orlondo Steinauer of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ Bob Dyce are the only two Black head coaches.
Pontbriand said the league isn’t mandating each team hire a certain number of minorities.
“I think there’s still some work to do,” she said. “We’re not trying to have equal representation across the board. That’s not the ultimate goal.
“The goal is just to make sure that everyone has an equal access to those positions. We would love to see more coaches and coordinators with a diverse background.”
“That’s the purpose of the program. We want more coaches from diverse backgrounds hired at the CFL level and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
— Laurence Pontbriand, the CFL’s manager of football and officiating development on the Diversity In Football Program.
Matt Bucknor, a former defensive back who spent six seasons in the CFL with Hamilton, Winnipeg, Calgary and BC will be attending the Tiger-Cats training camp.
Other participants include: Tara Mrakic, of LaSalle, Que. (Montreal Alouettes, coaching); Gregory Coates-Cameron of Guelph, Ont. (Ottawa REDBLACKS, coaching); Montreal’s Nicolas Larrieux (Toronto Argonauts, strength and conditioning); Alysha Emerson of Mississauga, Ont. (Winnipeg Blue Bombers, coaching); Toronto’s Jack Louisdort (Saskatchewan Roughriders, coaching); Montreal’s Greig Longchamps (Edmonton Elks, coaching); and Khaalid Hicks of Longueuil, QC. (BC Lions, coaching).
Pontbriand was impressed by the talent and experiences of the participants.
“It’s all people that have a really strong community presence,” she said. “They’re all really involved in football and have been involved for a very long time.”
This is the second year for the Diversity in Football Program.
Pontbriand said candidates were able to apply online on the CFL website. The applications were reviewed and a short list of names was delivered to the teams. The individual teams then decided who they wanted to attend their training camp.
There were 50 applicants this year but Pontbriand would like to see more in the future. She would also like to see more U SPORTS coaches included in the program.
“If you see the list of participants that were selected, they’re mostly from the province of Quebec or Ontario,” she said. “We’d like to see more representation from the West or even the East coast.
“It’s still a new program. We’re still trying to figure out how to tap into all those communities to reach out to as many people as possible.”
The program has already produced results.
Last year, after completing the program, Nathan Taylor of LaSalle, QC, was hired by the Ottawa REDBLACKS as their running backs coach.
“That’s the purpose of the program and it’s kind of the reason why we’re doing it,” Pontbriand said. “We want more coaches from diverse backgrounds hired at the CFL level and that’s exactly what’s happening.”