The CFL’s Newest Hustler
It’s great to be pleasantly surprised.
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to cover the launch of the new CFL season. For those less inclined, and not aware of one of the oldest professional football league in North America, that acronym refers to the Canadian Football League. The league to which I was fortunate enough to call home for a few years, in my younger carefree days, is steeped in tradition and loyal to its own version of football, with its own set of rules and customs that make it distinctly Canadian.
Which is why, to my surprise, when the announcement of a newly hired commissioner was announced, I was a little floored, to say the least. Jeffrey Orridge isn’t your prototypical candidate – at first glance.
First of all, he doesn’t fit the criteria or physical makeup that past commissioners would dictate. His diminutive stature, slender build and light brown complexion doesn’t exactly scream Canadian football dignitary. But looks can be deceiving.
Beneath the expensively tailored suit and charming smile lies a former athlete whose athleticism carried him through various high school and collegiate sports that included track and field and football. Who knew?
Secondly, Orridge is an American citizen who hails from Queens, New York – an area well known for giving birth to some of the most influential rappers and moguls in hip-hop. Orridge’s childhood included rubbing shoulders with some of rap’s elite including the likes of Russell Simmons and Run DMC whom he claims to have grown up with.
When the U.S. can see its first African-American president elected to office, it is no doubt a welcomed sight to see the lily-white front office of the CFL appoint a Black man from NYC as its new top dog.
A few weeks back at the CFL’s launch of its new partnership with TSN, Orridge emphatically quoted a hook sung by Pharrell from a Jay Z song, “I Just Wanna Love U” in his opening remarks to the well over 200 guests in attendance: “I’m a hustler baby, I just want you to know / It ain’t where I been, but where I’m about to go.”
No one saw that coming, not even me. This however, is a time for change. When the U.S. can see its first African-American president elected to office, it is no doubt a welcomed sight to see the lily-white front office of the CFL appoint a Black man from NYC as its new top dog.
That said, Orridge is tasked with undertaking a nine-team league in a country where hockey remains the national sport of interest while an ever-increasing popularity in basketball is considerably present. Orridge remains vigilant in his plight to continue to bring an entertaining and engaging brand of football to not only North America, but globally as well.
With a backdrop of the Notorious B.I.G. and Ma$e playing in the background at the CFL launch event, I asked Orridge how he will be able to incorporate a more urban feel into the games, as currently the likes of Blue Rodeo and Nickelback have been the headliners at its signature event – The Grey Cup.
His response was diplomatic; however, it did leave room for optimism that perhaps the culture of hip-hop could make its foray into the CFL’s signature in the near future. My fingers are crossed.
Orridge’s past isn’t littered with collegiate and professional stints in the sport of football, moreover he’s seemingly mastered the art of the overall sporting hustle.
That change will undoubtedly start with the marketing of the game, a field in which the commish is vastly experienced. As former head of CBC sports, he was chiefly responsible for securing the broadcasting rights for the 2014 and 2016 Olympic games and maintaining the business relationship with the National Hockey League.
If an African-American can help foster relationships in the predominantly Caucasian brotherhood of CBC sports and the NHL, it’s clear he can, without a doubt, make it happen in Canadian football, with the right framework in place.
It’s an exciting time in the CFL. Rosters are being cut down to regular season size, the Argos have a new stadium deal, the league’s western fan base is at an all-time high and the league is gaining international exposure with the addition of the NFL’s first openly gay drafted player Michael Sam (recently suspended) to the Montreal Alouettes’ roster.
There is no better time to introduce the first-ever Black commissioner of a major professional sport in North America. Orridge’s past isn’t littered with collegiate and professional stints in the sport of football, moreover he’s seemingly mastered the art of the overall sporting hustle, and as he so eloquently stated, “It ain’t where I been, but where I’m about to go.”
Let the hustle begin.
Photo of Jeffrey Orridge provided by Canadian Football League