Here I am, two days after it came to a close (Congratulations Ottawa Redblacks on their first-ever Grey Cup win!) – replaying in my mind many favourable moments – itching to be present for next year’s.
Football? Say what? Guilty as charged. A very new and seemingly weird interest of mine – as most know I’m not super into sports. However, a few months back – I had the opportunity of catching a live game, here in Toronto – watching home team The Toronto Argonauts rip up the field – and…I kinda liked it.
From newbie to fanatic abroad – everyone can agree that there is something unique and fun about attending a live sporting event. The adrenaline rush you experience at various points in the game – the overwhelming sense of camaraderie – in addition to tossing in a steady supply of beer and friendly banter amongst fellow friends and fellow fans – it makes for a fun and memorable experience.
Definitive factors in my deciding to cover anything CFL related? I always found it really odd that there wasn’t as much media exposure on the hype surrounding the aforementioned ‘feels’ when it comes to the CFL games; and that needs to change. Also, any figure who has a legitimate following thrives on the relatability that exists between themselves as an athlete and a fan – people want to know what the players are like off the field – and I thought to take advantage of the opportunity in getting down to all of that by attending.
First stop? The CFL Awards. There are specific categories for which a winner is chosen for each team. The event went off without a hitch, and in style. Check out some of the photos I took and banter I engaged in below.
Forrest Hightower; Defensive Back – Ottawa Redblacks
A: How do you find Toronto life? Do you come into the city at all?
FH: No, I don’t come into the city much at all.
A: What? Really? I know a little bit about Ottawa – there isn’t much of a night life. Would you say there is a place in Ottawa that you enjoy, would go to and hang out with friends?
FH: Yeah. I would recommend El Furniture Warehouse in Ottawa (ps – I love the Toronto location too!)- it’s a pretty nice place to get drinks – and there’s cheap food, but it’s really good food. Going out to get a drink, I go to People Nightclub – it’s pretty fun to go there.
A: Oh cool! How does that work for you? Do you get to go out much during the season? Or – does your coach or management limit that?
FH: You know, we’re professional athletes. So, in our time away from football – we have to be responsible. Every now and then – I get out. I’m kind of a homebody myself, but I do get out every now and then.
A: Who would you say is your style icon?
FH: Oh wow…okay this is kind of tough – because not everyone might know him – but I know him personally – his name is Duke Ihenacho. He plays for the Washington Redskins – he is a very, very fly guy.
A: Awesome . I will have to look him up. What was your inspiration behind any of your looks for this week? You look great tonight. Have you been suited up by the league – or did you choose this for yourself?
FH: Well, this is Zara. I love Zara.
A: I love Zara too! It’s trendy, and easy on the pocket.
A: I’ve been asking athletes – in playing for the CFL, what would you say about mainstream Canadian media and their support of the CFL? Do you feel like they’re doing okay? Or, could they be doing more to push the concept that Canadian football is definitely a part of our very diverse culture? A lot of other franchise teams in Toronto get a lot of shine, and unfortunately CFL teams can get left out.
FH: I feel like they’re doing a pretty good job right now. Of course, there can be improvements – always. But since I’ve got here – it’s improved a lot. My family back home didn’t get to see me much so, I can say that media has been working on expanding more to the U.S. ; some of the games are shown on ESPN – so I would say they are doing pretty good.
A: This is not the first I’ve heard tonight – about it getting better. That’s a good thing. Being American – I know that in the U.S. to have any sort of affiliation with professional football – is huge. Seats at highschool football games in the states fill up faster than some local CFL games. Do you feel that your American counterparts look at you funny because you moved on to the CFL as opposed to striving for the NFL?
FH: I can’t really say – in Ottawa, we sell out a lot of games – and we have a lot of support. I love the fans in Ottawa.
A: That’s awesome. I’m pretty neutral this weekend with the game in sight – but, would you say there is another dream CFL team you would love to play for?
FH: I think I’m in the right place in Ottawa, I love it here.
Ettore Lattanzio; Defensive Lineman – Ottawa Redblacks
A: Italian? I’m just going to call you Paisano from now on.
EL: (laughs) Oh there ya go!
A: Can you share a little bit about who you would say your style icon is?
EL: Honestly – I don’t have a style icon. I kind of just go with whatever works for me. I’m not a big fashion guy. There are a lot of players who are constantly getting into current trends – but, I like to go with what just works with me.
A: Oh cool – do you draw inspiration from other teammates or players abroad?
EL: Oh sure, if I see something that I like – I will look for something similar. Mix and match it.
A: Awesome. What is your style like off the field?
EL: I’m more of a casual guy. I really like more casual denims, plaid shirts – mostly fitted. But I actually really just like being in sweatpants.
A: Is there a brand that you favour for that?
EL: I like Adidas – the tapering is really good. They give you just enough room but they aren’t too baggy. Under Armour is also really comfortable. And, Nike is always good too. In terms of denims – I like more of a rugged look. Athletes are always wearing tight stuff on the field, so, off the field – a lot of athletes will go for a look that allows them to feel free.
A: What are you going to be doing in the off-season?
EL: Obviously – training and preparing for the next season.
A: But is it really that serious? Is it literally going from The Grey Cup to training right away?
EL: No. We usually take care of ourselves with a break for a month or so after The Grey Cup – and then, we have to get back into it. If we wait too long – we won’t be ready in time for training camp. I work in the off season as well. I’m also looking into starting a second career this season. It can’t be football for forever – so I need to prepare. I’m 25.
A: My last question pertains to being an athlete in Canada. Do you feel like there is something or maybe not enough that Canadian mainstream media is doing to support the CFL as part of our culture?
EL: It’s definitely getting better – especially with the new TV deal. There is always more that can be done. I think with Canadian culture it’s different. Everything down south – is big. Population is a factor right there. We are getting there slowly but surely. You also don’t want to go too big either.
DeVaris Daniels; Wide Reciever – Calgary Stampeders
A: Where are you originally from?
A: I hear Chicago is a lot like Toronto. Is that true?
DD: It’s a big city, yeah.
A: How long have you been playing with Calgary?
DD: It’s my first season?
A: And how do you find it?
DD: Well, they found me. (laughs)
A: Do you enjoy it?
DD: I love it – it’s a lot of nice people. Everyone is super polite. Good community.
A: So, would this be your first bit of exposure to Canadian culture?
DD: Yeah. I like it better than American culture. It’s a lot more friendly and polite. Everyone gets along for the most part – it’s different.
A: Who is your style icon?
DD: I’m not sure who – but I like to look good. So I like people who look a little different – but not too much. I do my own thing though. You can’t be like everyone else.
A: How do you find Calgary winters?
DD: (laughs) For me, being from Chicago – it’s really not that bad.
A: How do you feel about having your mom here?
DD: A lot of people got their girlfriends or whatever, wives. I’m a young guy so, I brought my mom.
A: What would you have to say about Canadian mainstream media and their support of the CFL?
DD: I think they do a good job – they do what they can. Out here – it’s different, because hockey is the number one focus – so it’s tough. Overall I think they do pretty well – it’s up to everyone else to tag along.
A: What are your plans for off season – are you going back home?
DD: (mom laughs) I haven’t really thought about it. I know I’ll have to – but I don’t know when, or for how long. We will see.
A: Who is your style icon?
DS: Oh man, I was just talking about this with the guys – and his name escapes me now.
A: Who are you wearing tonight?
A: That’s very impressive.
DS: Carl Smith(?) shoes too!
A: What are your thoughts on Canadian mainstream media and their support, or lack therof – of the CFL?
DS: Competitive balance is key. To have multiple netoworks covering the CFL would probably make it more competitive. It would be nice to get more coverage from other networks. Though, TSN does a great job.
A: What are your thoughts on the Toronto Argonauts – in general, with regards to their performance as a team? I know they have had a tough season. Do you see brighter horizons?
DS: Yes, the BMO contract provided a place for people to show up – so that’s exciting. It’s really great. If I remember the name of my style icon – I will tell you.
A: So, is retirement in the horizon?
A: Can we talk about your fashion and style? Who are you wearing tonight?
RF: You know what – I’m a farm boy – so, sometimes I need a little bit of help. I like wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Melissa at Gotstyle – she always takes care of me – I’ve done a few events for them. The blazers there come fitted – but they stretch for big guys – so I love them.
A: What should fans expect from you in the off season?
RF: I’m working at coming back bigger and better next year.
A: Pertaining to mainstream Canadian media – how do you feel that they do or they don’t support the CFL – and what would you like to see change?
RF: I think there is a divide – some media outlets cover things at their utmost, and some outlets don’t enough. I think some need to step it up for the sake of the league, sportsmanship – and culture.
Shawn Lemon; Defensive Lineman – Toronto Argonauts
A: Who is your style icon?
SL: I look up a lot of stuff online.
A: How long are you based in Toronto throughout the year?
SL: 6 months while we are playing – but heading into off season as well.
A: What happens in off season – a lot of people want to know?
SL: I just train. This will be my first year training here in the off season in Toronto. I’ll be going around to schools – as I’m involved in an anti-bullying program. I’ll also be spending time with my fiancé – I’m getting married in May!
A: Amazing – congratulations – I’m all about marriage. Do you feel that there is more that mainstream Canadian media can be doing to support the CFL?
SL: As the Argonauts – we have to do a lot better at wining. That way – we can get more fans who are into the game. I don’t blame them necessarily – I blame us.
A: I feel like you’re being tough on yourself – because, you know – the Toronto Maple Leafs – they lose a lot and they still have loyal fans. Do you feel like the media has something to do with that – and if so, what would you like to see change?
SL: I think we are doing a lot just even being here tonight at the awards show. I’ve been to a lot of them – and every year – it’s a little bit better.
A: What are your plans for the week? There are a lot of galas, and parties. Are you going suited up?
SL: Tonight – I have a suit on. Probably a tux tomorrow.
A: What can fans expect in the off-season?
SL: Practices are open to the public. It’s public knowledge – it’s online.
MY TWO CENTS: A wonderful night. Many fans were present, as well as family and close friends of players – it contributed to a very intimate atmosphere. There was no open bar; however – passed around apps. How do you roll up? Dress up! As a female coming from the fashion industry – I caught right off the bat that mixing and mingling in this atmosphere amongst athletes is … different. In fashion – it’s an extremely image based industry – so, it’s common place to discuss style, and to compliment looks and appearance – very openly. In this environment – caution is advised. To approach a pro-athlete with the same tone – can be tricky – especially from a female perspective; certain levels of enthusiasm is sometimes seen as “groupie” like behaviour which is generally not entertained amongst the truest professionals in this field.
I learned soooooo much from covering this event – most of which I can confidently say will make me a better freelance writer. Learning, and self improvement truly never goes out of style. Stay tuned this week for more Grey Cup recaps!