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© 2023 Toronto Argonauts. All rights reserved.
© 2023 Toronto Argonauts. All rights reserved.
It’s a transition many players have made over the years. When an athlete’s playing days are over, they remain part of a team by becoming a coach or an executive.
Historically, the Canadian Football League has been ahead of its southern brethren in terms of managerial equality.
The Toronto Argonauts named Willie Wood as the league’s first Black head coach in 1980, nine years before Art Shell became the head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders. The CFL has rarely had a problem in terms of Black representation in that role.
But where does the league stack up in terms of representation in management? Former players like Michael “Pinball” Clemons, Orlondo Steinauer and Geroy Simon all currently hold high-profile football operations positions.
Another former player is looking to join them.
Matt Black is best known for one of the most memorable plays in team history. His last second end-zone interception clinched the 2017 Grey Cup and etched his name in Double Blue lore. Black joined the organization upon his retirement and currently works as the team’s director of performance and player relations.
Just days away from his 38th birthday, he eventually wants to climb the ladder, and not just by a rung or two.
“I’ve always set lofty goals for myself,” Black told Argonauts.ca. “You have to follow it up with the work and gain the experience and understand the transition to this side. I’ve learned there’s so much more that goes into it than meets the eye.”
His eventual goal is to become a team president. Does Argo President Bill Manning know that Black is gunning for his job?
“If he didn’t, he will,” he said with a smile and a laugh. “I think I’ve been open with my aspirations. I don’t know if I’ve had a conversation directly with Bill, but it’s been a conversation with Mike (Clemons) that I want to be the president of a sports organization.”
A lofty goal indeed. But the Toronto native and Northern Secondary School graduate has a history of not backing away from a challenge. As a player, Black was released by the Argos in August of 2017, only to be brought back a week later. Three months later he’d make his historic play.
“A career in sports has always interested me,” he explained. “Trying to impact the players’ lives and improve them and make things better. I think I have a unique lens having played a while and having experience on that side.”
If the life of a team president is a glamorous one, the role Black currently employs isn’t; but it’s allowing him to see an organization from a different perspective.
Black currently helps players get work in the off-season through a team initiative. He oversees the friends and family program that’s employed on game days, organizes practice and bussing schedules, and manages the team’s facility needs. He works on some of the Argos capital expenditure projects like the new weight room and the hydrotherapy facilities. He’s also now working with MLSE’s EDI initiatives.
He left Toronto to become a communications and marketing major at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan. Black has been able to use he education he received there in his role with the Argos, particularly the marketing side of the degree, which he says has given him a better grasp on some of the conversations he finds himself in on the business side of his position.
“The role has been developing as I’ve gone along. I don’t want to use the word unconventional, maybe non-traditional; it’s not like I’m coming in and they say, ‘This is your exact scope of work.’ It’s evolved, it’s been challenging, it’s been rewarding.”
The relative lack of Black executives in pro football has motivated Black.
“I think we need to do a better job of increasing our diversity and having representation. We have so much representation of colour on the field, it is nice to see it on the other side. Working with Pinball is phenomenal, seeing a former player of colour who has done great things on both sides of the ledger. It is motivational and I think it will make the game better.”
A check of the calendar sees that the year is 2023. While it’s great to highlight a former player’s aspirations, it’s somewhat unbelievable that there is such a lack of Black managerial representation in a sport where the number of Black players is so high.
How does Black feel about the need for his story being told in this space?
“I think it means we think we’re further along than we actually are. To me we (the CFL) have traditionally been a leader in that space. We’ve given a lot of people of colour opportunities when they weren’t afforded that in other sports and society in general. I think we have that ability to be agents of change.”