May 16, 2024

Landry: John Lu followed his heart onto screens across Canada

Supplied, John Lu

For John Lu, the sideline is the place to be during a CFL game.

For the longtime sports reporter, a familiar face to fans nationwide after nearly a quarter-century on the job with TSN, the thrill of the action really comes alive when you’re on the same footing as the players.

“Doing sidelines, being right down at field level, you see how fast the game is and what fantastic athletes and professionals these guys are,” says Lu, with a little wonder in his voice.

“It’s really a joy to behold.”

The native of Winnipeg is back in his hometown these days, covering the Blue Bombers and the NHL’s Jets, primarily, after 15 years in Montreal on the Alouettes and Canadiens beat.

It’s a job he clearly adores and now he’s doing it in the hometown he loves.

Here’s the thing.

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Lu might never have had the joy of watching those humble and talented pro football players battle it out from such a prime location if not for a life-changing decision made when he was in his 30s and already entrenched in a career of another kind.

John Lu is the poster boy for anyone who wonders if it’s worth listening to their heart. You should. He did. Eventually.

Lu was born in Vancouver but he grew up in Winnipeg. His parents emigrated, separately, from China in the early 1960’s, meeting in California and then getting married in Detroit. They drove across the country and turned north, settling first in B.C., and then heading east when John’s father got a job offer.

“I had a really good childhood,” Lu says, fondly, of growing up in the Manitoba capital. “Winnipeg is a very multicultural city and that’s something that I’ve always held dear.”

He says he was 14 years old when he first considered the path he would finally get on, some 20 years later. A friend’s brother was heading to Carleton University, in Ottawa, for journalism school. “I thought that sounded really cool,” says Lu.

But he didn’t head in that direction out of high school. “I didn’t listen to my heart,” says Lu.

After attending the University of Manitoba for Commerce Management and earning his degree, Lu worked in the insurance industry, and then banking. For 11 years that was his life. Feeling unfulfilled, he took to community theatre to spice things up and that led him to thinking about channelling those performance desires of his into some kind of steady job.

“Television reporting,” said Lu of that pivotal moment in his life, in 1998. “So I turned my back on my bank career and went back to school.”

He was 34-years-old when he enrolled in the journalism course at RRC Polytech in Winnipeg.

“I had never been a straight A student in my life until I got into my journalism program,” says Lu. “It turned out to be exactly where I needed to be.”

Lu made a career change in 1998 to pursue broadcasting, which led him to working at TSN (Supplied, John Lu)

He was leaning towards a job in news as his next career choice, figuring there was more opportunity in that field as opposed to sports coverage. But when a chance to apply for a TSN internship came up in 2000, Lu decided to go for it.

“I thought ‘I’m gonna do this. Why not? You know, I got nothing to lose. If I win this internship and I get to go to Toronto, see the big city, work in the national newsroom, I think it’d be great.’”

Lu got the internship and he’s been with TSN ever since, working in Toronto until 2007 and then moving to Montreal, where a big part of his job involved covering the Alouettes, right at the height of the team’s dominance.

After 15 years, Lu moved back to his hometown and the Blue Bombers beat, in 2022.

Truth of the matter is that John Lu should be considered a role model for any young and aspiring broadcaster, no matter their heritage. He’s intelligent, friendly, articulate and fair, with an easy, fluid delivery when the camera’s on. A reporter’s reporter.

But I wondered. Does he feel like an inspiration for the Asian community, specifically, in any way?

“I didn’t feel like I would be a standard-bearer when I was hired by TSN,” says Lu. “I knew that there were very few Asian sportscasters across Canada, especially on a national level. So I knew that there was some uniqueness to my being in the profession. But I didn’t actively try to put myself out there in that capacity.

“Over the years when I’d be approached by aspiring young journalists — especially those who are Asian — or even just random people in the streets, I’ve come to take it more seriously.”

Lu says he believes he was fortunate when he was young. That Winnipeg was good to him. So were the other places he’s lived, for the most part.

“I really didn’t feel a racial prejudice or discrimination as a child or through junior high or high school, or university,” Lu remembers. “Certainly not on an extensive level.

“I consider myself really lucky. I mean, I’ve faced prejudice everywhere I’ve lived. Whether it was Winnipeg, northwestern Ontario, northern Manitoba and then in Toronto, Montreal. I’ve faced it everywhere, but mainly in isolated incidents.”

“If my time in the media on the national stage, trying to be as good a professional as I can…means something to people who look like me, who come from similar backgrounds and might want to pursue a career in the same vein, then that’s a good shift for me. It’s time well spent.”

— TSN’s John Lu

But ugliness came in the form of brutal prejudice and violence during the pandemic and as Lu watched it rear its despicable head, the connection with his Chinese heritage and a desire to fight racism grew stronger.

“You’d hear about all these horrible incidents, whether it was in Canada or the United States, especially in communities that have very large Chinese populations,” he says. “Like Vancouver, or California. It really fired me up. I was really angry about this type of racism that was bubbling to the surface and overflowing.

“I’ve got a hashtag (in his X/Twitter profile); “Stop Asian Hate.” And that’s something that I put in there during the pandemic. I’ll probably leave it there forever, as long as I have that account. It’s just something that I want people to see. That that’s part of what I’m about.”

Another part of what Lu is all about is an admiration for the CFL, a league that he has been tied to after he first made that sharp turn in the journey of his life, turning from finance to media and then landing at TSN.

“I love that it’s uniquely Canadian,” Lu says of the CFL. “That there’s a real grassroots feel and love and connection for it. It’s just part of our heritage. Truly.

“There’s a sense of humility and appreciation that you feel amongst the athletes that is unique in professional sports.”

In 2024, Lu continues the long association he might never have had, if he hadn’t begun to fully listen to his heart. Having a job he loves is reward enough. If, along the way, he happens to be considered a role model?

“If my time in the media on the national stage, trying to be as good a professional as I can, if that means something to people who look like me, who come from similar backgrounds and might want to pursue a career in the same vein, then that’s a good shift for me, you know?

“It’s time well spent.”


Remarkably, I somehow forgot to ask Lu if he could possibly nail down his most memorable moment in his time covering the CFL for TSN.

Days after our interview, I rectified that oversight by emailing him and this is what he wrote back:

“Most memorable moment: Anthony Calvillo becoming pro football’s all-time passing leader on Thanksgiving Monday, 2011. I was doing sidelines for the game and had a perfect view of A.C. slinging the historic pass to Jamel Richardson in the east side of Molson Stadium. The crowd went bananas, Anthony’s teammates mobbed him and the game was paused for a special ceremony to honour A.C. It was a perfect memory from a perfect, sunny October afternoon.”

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