Roy Shivers is the general manager and director of football operations for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He's the first black general manager in professional football anywhere. The job is a culmination of a lifelong struggle for Shivers: to bring equality to the game he loves. Shivers sent a message to the league when the Riders hired him in 1999.
"I hired a qualified coach and he happened to be black, and I wanted him to be black. We never get these chances. I'm in a position where I can finally do it," says Shivers. He hired Danny Barrett, a former quarterback in the CFL who also served as an assistant coach in Calgary. The two also made history in another way: the Riders are the first football team to ever employ a black general manager and coach at the same time. This is a dream come true for Shivers, who has waited nearly a lifetime to make a difference.
Roy Shivers not only grew up and went to school with Frank Robinson, first black manager in professional baseball; Bill Russell, the first black coach in the history of the National Basketball League; Curt Flood, the baseball great who is credited with bringing free agency to professional sports and Baseball players including Joe Morgan and Vada Pinson, but also with the founders of the Black Panther Party: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and David Hilliard.
"We get these opportunities and we don't take advantage of them. We were always in positions where people made decisions on us. I was now in a decision-making position where I can make a decision, and I don't think my father and my parents, or the people I grew up with, I don't think they would've approved if I went the other way when I had a choice. I knew a Black qualified guy that could coach, and that was my whole thing. I got a chance to make a difference now, and I'm gonna make a difference by hook or by crook, because I've seen the other guy get his brother, cousin, uncle or whoever on the staff and nobody ever says a word."
AK: What was the original idea for doing this documentary on Roy Shivers?
CM: Well, two things actually. I had heard some stories about his past, not much, just the odd story that he seemed to be an interesting man.
But what really got me thinking about him was a small copy story I read about a football team in the United States, that had hired the first ever Afro-American to manage a team in the National Football League
Well, I thought, the Americans with all of their programs to encourage Afro-Americans to apply for jobs in upper management… and it took them until the year 2003 to find an Black man to be in charge of a team?
There happened to be one in charge of a football team in Canada already. That is when it hit me, that Roy Shivers is a pioneer and let's face it, people, who are first in almost anything, are interesting. So I called him, met with him and I went from there. Roy Shivers is American, but he has a home in Canada as well...one must not forget this
AK: That reminds me of something I read recently. In an article by Fred McKissack he stated: "Of the 117 NCAA Division I-A football teams, only five have blacks as head coaches. The news doesn't get any better if you total the coaches from Divisions I-A and I-AA. The percentage drops from 4.3 percent to 2.9 percent, even though Division I-AA football schools include a number of historically black colleges such as Grambling, Florida A&M and Howard. If you remove such schools, the percentage of black head coaches in Division I football further falls to 1.1 percent, according to NCAA statistics taken from its Web site. Indeed, there are more black head coaches of tennis teams at the Division I level than there are black coaches heading football programs, according to NCAA statistics".
CM: Yes indeed, the NCAA. I have read such statistics
AK: And he figured: "African-American coaches do not have the necessary strategic skills to run major college or professional-level football teams". Which is an embarrassing statement!
CM: I am amazed that such thoughts prevail to this very day
AK: Unfortunately yes, Costa!
CM: You know...every country has skeletons…
AK: In your interview with Roy Shivers you mention an event in 1950, when Shivers wanted to be a quarterback in high school, something unheard of for Afro-Americans at that time. He was denied the chance, loosing to a white team mate. He says he feels he has made a difference in Canada. Shortly after being offered the general manager's job in Regina in 1999, he took over Barrett to coach. Since hiring Barrett, there are now more black coaches in the CFL. Do you think your documentary will help to improve this attitude?
CM: I believe that sometimes when it comes to race relations we feel a bit too smug about ourselves. Without a doubt things are getting better, but there are gaps that still have to be filled. The Roy Shivers documentary is sending a message that we are not there yet when it comes to equal opportunities for minorities in the workplace
AK: Then there were the activists. Shivers grew up and went to school with the founders of the Black Panther Party: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and David Hilliard. You had the chance to talk to David Hilliard himself. That must have been quite an impressive experience.
CM: David Hilliard is in a sense a piece of living Civil Rights history. Here is a man who was once jailed for threatening the life of president Nixon, who at the age of sixty-two still continues the fight. He has never left his old neighbourhood.
It was quite funny actually. He was playing a little hard to get when I was attempting to contact him from Canada.
So I arrived in Oakland and spent my first day with Roy Shivers and his friends and family, filming etc. Well, Hilliard was nowhere to be seen. But it is funny, Andrea, as a Canadian I am sometimes a bit more reserved than Americans, you know more polite. But after a day with black people who all come from the Deep South, who are people who are open with their emotions - in your face so to speak- which is quite refreshing; well, it doesn't take long to be just like them. So the next morning I picked up my cell phone, called Hilliard and barked into the phone: 'Do you want to do this or don't you, 'cause I don't have time to be playin' any games here!' That was so un-Canadian on my part. He arrived in ten minutes and did a wonderful interview.
It is odd though that in Oakland, at that park where the Black Panther Party was born, there is not one sign to acknowledge that!
AK: Did you have any chances to do any interviews with some other people Shivers grew up with? I don't mean his family of course, but people like Frank Robinson for example?
CM: No, not Frank Robinson. Although I suppose I could have. His last job was in Montreal. I interviewed some old team mates of Roy's, people who played in the National Football League.
AK: Did you have a chance to meet Bill Russell?
CM: Well, Bill Russell no…I wish…You know, after doing this documentary I'd love to write a book about Shivers, and if that happens I plan on visiting Mr. Russell.
AK: A book? Quite a project
CM: Yes, there is one aspect of the Shivers story that is not in the documentary. He refuses to talk about the time he spent on the front lines of the Vietnam War. This man in some respects is a true American hero!
AK: The documentary will be shown on CBC News. Are there any plans for American TV? After all he is American.
CM: I have plans in the works as CBC has an International Sales Department to try to sell this to PBS in the US, yes. It will be shown across Canada next week on The National, which is a news program that I consider the most prestigious news show in Canada
AK: Great! I think it is very essential that this documentary will air in the US!
CM: I hope it does air there for sure.
AK: So, what are your next plans?
CM: Well, I still have a daily news program to host. I have more documentaries in my mind for sure...my next project will be a light piece for sure...about a conductor of the local symphony
AK: Tell me something. People tend to look down their nose on the makers of documentaries I am afraid. Does that upset you?
CM: Well, people feel sometimes that makers of documentaries, reporters, people in the media, take things out of context... But in Canada and especially in the CBC where I work there is a long tradition of: documentary making...so here the respect level in that part of journalism is a bit higher than your basic TV reporter from the US who is only looking for that five second 'clip'.
Costa Maragos was born in Kitamat, B.C., and was raised in Regina. He started working with the CBC in 1982 and has worked across the country, from Prince Rupert to Toronto, with stops in between. He moved back to his hometown in 1990 to anchor CBC's supper hour newscast and has been doing the news in Saskatchewan since then.
Canada Now is a news program on the main English television network of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The show was created to replace the regular supper-hour newscasts on the CBC's owned-and-operated local television stations in the late 1990s, as a result of cuts to the CBC's budget. The hour-long newscast is divided into two thirty-minute subprograms. One is national in scope, and is anchored by Ian Hanomansing; the other is regional, varying from station to station, anchored by the stations' local anchors, just like the previous local newscasts. The national half of Canada Now is also broadcast on CBC Newsworld, and some of the various regional inserts are also seen on the CBC's digital specialty channel Country Canada. CBC's privately owned affiliates do not broadcast Canada Now; instead they produce their own local newscasts.
The documentary will be broadcast on CBC Television's CBC News: Canada Now(click here) in Saskatchewan, as a two part series on Monday, November 1 and Tuesday, November 2. A longer version including interviews with his daughters, sisters and friends can be seen on CBC Newsworld, (click here) Wednesday, November 10 at 7:00 p.m. with an encore broadcast Saturday, November 13 at 2:00 p.m.