Diversity Is Strength Conversations: Black History Month

TORONTO — Khari Jones understands that when a Black aspiring head coach sees him, it carries a special significance.

Jones is one of two Black head coaches in the CFL at the moment and while he and Hamilton’s Orlondo Steinauer aren’t the first in that category, the number is still relatively small, even with its fluctuation in recent years. Heading into his third season as the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes, Jones remembers seeing former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy in the NFL and the impact that it had on him.

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“It’s everything, it really is,” Jones told Donnovan Bennett in the debut episode of CFL.ca’s Diversity Is Strength Conversations series.

“I think that representation is huge. Seeing yourself represented in others, it means something. As a Black head coach when people see me they say, ‘Hey, maybe I can do that. Maybe I can reach that goal.’ Tony Dungy was that when I saw him in the U.S. and the success that he had.

“I said, ‘Maybe there is a place for someone like me to be in that role. You want to have that representation. You want to have it in all aspects of the game. It feels good for me when the players can see, when the players know that not only have I been in their shoes but I have the same background as a lot of these guys too.”

As the lone executive in this conversation, Simon, who became the Edmonton Elks’ assistant GM in late December of last year, shared insight into what’s allowed him to have success on a path that not many Black people have gone down.

“I can tell up and coming execs and scouts, be willing to work for free,” Simon said, drawing some laughter from Jones and Dyce.

“It’s tough,” Jones added. “A lot of Black people can’t afford to do that, really. Whereas someone with a little more money they say, ‘I can do this for a few years and make my way up.’”

Simon admitted that when he got his opportunity, first with the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a scout in 2014, he “went from making a whole lot of money (as a player) to making not very much.”

“I knew that was a sacrifice I had to make and the only way I was able to do it was because I made a lot for a long time and I knew for a couple of years I could do it,” he said.

“I also say that if my skin colour was a different shade and I had the resume that I had, I wouldn’t even have to go through that. I would have the pick of jobs that I want.”

This year, the CFL will host a number of Diversity Is Strength Conversations. Bennett, the host of the CFL’s official podcast, The Waggle, will lead these conversations.

In honour of Black History Month, he spoke with Jones, Simon and Bob Dyce of the Ottawa REDBLACKS about their respective careers, Black representation in football personnel, allyship and striving for improvement.

Diversity Is Strength Conversations will return in March for International Women’s Day, then again in June for Pride and in September for Truth and Reconciliation.

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