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CFLer says he faced systemic racism at McMaster, school to review Black varsity experience

McMaster University has announced a review of Black student-athlete experiences following “concerning accounts of anti-Black racism.”

It comes after Fabion Foote, a defensive lineman with the Toronto Argonauts and a former football player at the university, tweeted Sunday that he’d “experienced a lot of systemic racism during my time at McMaster.” 

He went on to describe a coach who said he must have sold drugs to afford tuition saying, “Keep in mind I never smoked in my life.”

Foote said “McMaster is a trash place with a system in place for us to fail. Whenever we spoke up they tried to silence us by ignoring the issues we faced.”

The review will be carried out by an external advisor, according to a statement from Sean Van Koughnett, McMaster associate vice president and dean of students.

It will “explore to what extent racist beliefs, comments, and behaviours have been present within Marauder Athletics and document the impact that this has had on current and former student-athletes,” the statement reads, noting the process has the “full support” of Shawn Burt, the school’s director of athletics and recreation.

Former McMaster University football star Fabion Foote now plays for the Toronto Argonauts after three seasons with the Montreal Alouettes. (CFL)

“The goal of the review is to better understand what Black student-athletes have experienced so that we can take concrete action to strengthen a culture of equity and inclusivity.”

Van Koughnett’s statement referenced former students who took to social media to share their experience over the weekend.

The university said it immediately began looking into the issue and takes allegations of racism and discrimination seriously, asking students to share their concerns.

Van Koughnett said the review is part of a broader effort by McMaster “to address systemic institutional racism in all its forms.”

Review must be followed by action

Foote’s shared his experience at the university after the McMaster Marauders twitter account posted a video about the death of George Floyd and anti-Black racism.

The video was created by the Varsity Leadership Committee and sport information officer Muad Issa, said Kwasi Adu-Poku, who helped research its content and worked on its messaging.

The basketball player said students on the committee wanted to respond to what’s happening at McMaster and to show support for its Black community.

“The main thing was to hold the school accountable in the sense that we thought if we could make a video that had this strong message to take action … it is something to hold the school accountable in the public eye,” he explained.

Adu-Poku said he’s personally experienced microagressions as a student-athlete, especially during his early years at the university, adding “It is something that you continuously experience as a Black student and a Black person in this society.”

He said the review is a move in the right direction, but noted it’s important McMaster not stop there and push on to further discussions and policy reform.

“I think this is a good step, letting athletes be heard and people share their experiences. I think that many people for too long have felt that their voice was never going to be heard,” said Adu-Poku.

“The first stepping stone, but with this stepping stone must come more action in my eyes.”

Former athletic director responds

Foote also said that his attempts to bring up his experiences to Mark Alfano, the department’s associate director, and Glen Grunwald, a past-director of McMaster athletics and now CEO of Canada Basketball, were “brushed off.” 

Grunwald replied to Foote on Twitter saying that he “should have done more to deal with the racism issues” that were raised. 

He mentioned one incident, where a player used a “horribly offensive phrase” in the team’s private chat and admitted that something more should have been done to “begin to deal with system racism.” 

Grunwald said that while the player was disciplined, and though around this time, he met with Black players and talked to the coach about discrimination in the football program, it wasn’t enough. 

“I apologize to you and your teammates for not doing more at that time and for the difficulties you all experienced,” he said. “Although it won’t help you and your teammates now, I will endeavour to do better going forward.” 

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