Together We Ride.
The Calgary Stampeders mantra could not ring truer as we continue our conversations on Black History Month with veteran receiver Reggie Begelton.
Just as the Red and White band together on the gridiron, from working as a unit to dissect opposing defences and shut down opposing offences, to making pivotal blocks on special teams and finding gaps on the run.
Just as Calgary faithful are united in their dedication to this football club, from pre-game tailgating in the McMahon parking lots and ringing cowbells until the clock strikes zero, to repping team colours in the off-season and welcoming new players to the city on social media.
We come together.
“For one,” began Begelton, “football is the ultimate team sport. No matter who is on the team and no matter what race you are, in order for you to win games you have to unite, you have to come together, and you have to be able to play a game.”
And that unity transcends the four corners of the football field and into the stands as well, explains Begelton.
“There is a mixed group in the stands as well,” he said. “In order for the game of football to thrive you have to tap in and touch every different race.
“Even the functions that we do to interact with fans, it’s not individual, it’s a group. You don’t see the colour, you don’t see the different attributes that every race brings, and that’s what you want to bring into the game of football.”
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As we continue our efforts to be more inclusive, it’s important to honour those who got us to where we are now.
“The generations before us had to pave the way, they had to crawl so that we could walk,” explained the 30-year-old Beaumont, Texas, product. “They had to do triple time. I’m not going to say double-time, they had to do triple-time the work and effort just to get on the map.
“For the generations before us, in order for you to get equality you had to learn the hard way and make a path for your people to be able to excel.
“So, Black history, in terms of getting on the map, man I give everybody their flowers that decided to go that path. It’s a scary road and I commend everybody who decided to take on that journey and try to change history.”
One of the trailblazers in Begelton’s life that has inspired him is his older cousin, Ben Wilkerson.
The Louisiana State product played under Nick Saban’s LSU Tigers from 2001-2004 and won an SEC Championship as a junior in 2003. The offensive lineman went on to play center as an undrafted free agent for the Cincinnati Bengals, and subsequently the Atlanta Falcons.
After a few coaching stints with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants, Wilkerson is currently a member of head coach Robert Saleh’s coaching staff on the New York Jets as the organization’s assistant offensive line coach.
Over the past few years, there’s been an increase in Black coaches throughout the NFL. The 2023 CFL all-star speaks on the growth of diversity in football and hiring the person most fit for the job.
“I feel like it is moving in the right direction,” said Begelton, “because the game of football has moved to being predominantly Black, meaning if you have more Black coaches involved then they are able to relate to the players. They know how to speak the language of the players.
“You have a certain type of group of players that are gifted and have a God-given talent, and some of them have really tough upbringings and when you have a group of coaches that have never been in those shoes, how can you try to explain to a person if you’ve never done it before?
“And us as football players, if we meet a coach that has never been in our position, (whether) it be trying to coach you physically on the field or trying to coach you on life, we don’t have an open ear to listen to what you want to say because you’ve never been through it. So, how are you going to tell us what works if you really don’t know?
“The fact that they’re putting coaches in positions to relate and be able to speak the language of the players is huge.”