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February is a special month. People are fully recovered from the hijinks of the holidays, a groundhog with the ability to foresee the future makes his annual appearance and CFL free agency kicks off, exciting millions of football fans in the process.
The overriding theme for the month of February, however, is Black History Month. Black people have contributed immensely to the CFL, and to football in general. This month provides all of us the opportunity to show our appreciation and pay respect to the people of colour that have made our game so great.
Before Ed Hervey was named general manager of the BC Lions this past November, the 44-year-old Compton, CA native won the Grey Cup in 2015 as GM of the Edmonton Eskimos.
In doing so, Hervey became the first black GM in the history of the CFL to hoist the Grey Cup.
“I was proud,” says the USC alum on being the first black GM to win the Grey Cup. “Going into that week, I was just focused on our team and trying to win the Grey Cup, but it was brought to my attention by some very close friends about the potential of becoming the first African-American GM to win the Grey Cup. It wasn’t something that was on my mind all game but, after the fact, it is an accomplishment that I am extremely proud of.”
Ed came to the CFL in 1999 as a player with the Eskimos, spending the next eight seasons catching passes for the Green and Gold. He was named a CFL All-Star twice and was a focal point on two Grey Cup winning teams. The former fifth round selection of the Dallas Cowboys amassed 6,715 receiving yards and 43 touchdowns during his impressive career in the CFL.
“When I came to the CFL, I just wanted an opportunity to play,” says Hervey. “I had some goals that weren’t met in my brief stint in the NFL. As an athlete, you always want to be part of something special and for me that always meant being part of a championship team.”
When Ed decided to hang up his cleats following the 2006 season, he had no plans to stay involved in the game he loves. However, that all changed after a conversation with then president of the Edmonton Eskimos, Hugh Campbell.
“What triggered my interest in scouting was a conversation I had with Hugh Campbell about football and life after football,” says the Lions’ GM. “I had aspirations of starting my own business in trucking and moving away from sports all together. I told Hugh that if I were to ever be part of a football organization, the scouting and management side was what really appealed to me.
“At that time, I believe Roy Shivers was the general manager of Saskatchewan, but when you looked across the league, there weren’t many black executives. I was interested in scouting but I was only interested if there was an opportunity to potentially end up in a management position.
Thankfully for CFL fans, Ed pumped the breaks on his trucking venture and decided to become the Eskimos’ west coast scout in 2006. By 2008, Hervey was promoted to Edmonton’s head scout. By 2013, he had earned the opportunity to be the general manager of the Eskimos.
“In the black community in particular, we are always searching for role models and role models that look like us.”
The Eskimos struggled during Hervey’s first year in the big chair, going 4-14. However, he and his staff turned the Eskimos around in a hurry, going 12-6 and advancing to the West Final in his second campaign. Edmonton took the final step in 2015, winning the Grey Cup after going 14-4 in the regular season. Ed made it three consecutive seasons with an appearance in a division final when his Eskimos played in the 2016 East Final.
“Some were surprised we won the Grey Cup so quickly,” says Hervey on his rapid success in The Big E. “My family was extremely happy and fans in Edmonton were excited. It’s always a joy when you set goals and then accomplish them, especially when you accomplish them in a short amount of time. I am very proud of all the work that we put in as a group. There is no greater feeling than winning a championship when you put a lot of time and effort into it.”
Hervey grew up in an atmosphere of racial strife, and he had a front row seat for some of the most important events in the history of Los Angeles. He lived in Watts during the Rodney King riots, he was working out on the USC campus the day O.J. Simpson went on a ride with A.C. Cowlings in a white Bronco. He even stood in the background as NWA filmed the music video for their ground-breaking hit, Straight Outta Compton.
“I am proud to be black. There is nothing to be ashamed of. I have worked really hard to be a success in my field,” says Hervey. “In the black community in particular, we are always searching for role models and role models that look like us. I am proud to have done things the right way and I try to live a positive life. If I can be an example for young African-American and black athletes that aspire to manage a team and win championships, then I am proud to be that.”
Building a championship football team may have been a quick process for Ed but that doesn’t mean that the perception of black men, particularly black men in positions of power has been equally as progressive.
“I believe that we all work hard and we all are in it for the right reasons, but there are times when if I’m firm, or if I have a belief, I can be seen as a bully. Others will be seen as passionate and having a strong opinion,” says Hervey on the prejudice he has experienced during his career. “Because I can have my own way of doing things and things that bug me, someone will say I’m difficult. Those are things that we have always had to overcome when people stereotype us. “
A die-hard fan of his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers, it’s fitting that Hervey has built on the foundation laid by former Dodgers’ star, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball. Just like Robinson, Hervey serves as an example to young people of every background that if you work hard enough, you can accomplish your goals regardless of where you come from or the obstacles in your path.
“My advice to those who have dreams and aspirations to take their careers to the next level is to work hard, pay attention to detail, treat people with respect and find a job that you enjoy doing,” says Hervey. “If you get to a point where you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, re-evaluate it. But always work extremely hard and stick to your convictions.”