Former Lions player Dante Marsh says Canada, CFL were good to him

BC Lions' Dante Marsh, right, looks on as Calgary Stampeders' Brad Sinopoli, misses a catch during first quarter CFL football action in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Oct. 11, 2013. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Canada and the CFL were good to Dante Marsh.

The five-foot-10, 190-pound cornerback spent 11 of his 12 seasons of professional football with the B.C. Lions (2004-14). Marsh came north after one season with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, amassing 609 tackles, 31 interceptions (three returned for TDs), eight fumble recoveries and 41 pass knockdowns in 181 regular-season CFL contests.

A four-time West Division all-star, Marsh was named an all-star by his peers (in CFL Players’ Association voting) on four occasions and helped B.C. win the Grey Cup twice (2006, 2011). Playing in Vancouver also allowed the former Fresno State Bulldog to remain relatively close to his hometown of Oakland, Calif.

“Canada treated me well,” Marsh said. “I’m born and raised in Oakland so going up to Vancouver kind of me reminded me of a mixture of Berkeley and San Francisco.

“It was pretty diverse.”

And while the 41-year-old Marsh enjoyed life in B.C., he admitted to experiencing “a couple of incidents” of racial discrimination.

“I can recall in third or fourth year sitting at a McDonald’s in Surrey, B.C., with my son (Christopher), who was six or seven at the time,” said Marsh. “We were just chillin’ and he had his hat on backwards.

“There was a white lady with a couple of her kids and I guess her son was enamoured with me and my son, so he’s taking his hat and putting it on backwards. As they got up to leave, she was like, ‘C’mon you don’t have to look like those (expletive).’

“I let it slide because of the position I was in and my son was present. But the younger me, it probably would’ve been a much different situation.”

It certainly wasn’t the first time Marsh had encountered racism, and nowhere near his worst experience.

“Yes, I’ve been called (n-word) by some white people before, racial profiling from police I’ve had that several times, and my brother and I had a couple of fights with kids walking to the subway,” Marsh said. “But it wasn’t Alabama or Mississippi or anything like that.

“In California, you may talk to a white person who could totally be a racist person but he more than likely will keep that to himself and call you (names) when he’s with his white friends. It’s called covert racism here . . . but I feel safe (in Oakland), I’m not concerned about my well being.”

The U.S. has experienced mass protests since the death of George Floyd on May 25. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in Minneapolis as video showed former police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck and ignoring Floyd’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. Chauvin’s knee remained on Floyd even after he’d stopped moving.

Marsh said San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was highlighting the same injustices four years ago when he knelt during the American national anthem to protest the country’s treatment of racial minorities.

“Four years ago when Kap knelt, all they had to do was pay attention to the real issue instead of changing the narrative,” Marsh said. “But the guy who’s in the White House made a big circus out of the whole ordeal and now look at where we’re at today.

“I think that’s why the temperature of the country is what it is right now because people are tired of seeing blatant slaps in the face.”

Charges against Chauvin, who was fired, have been upgraded to second-degree murder. Three other officers on the scene were also fired and charged with aiding and abetting.

“If these four individuals are not convicted, successfully convicted, I hate to say it (but) I see rioting again,” Marsh said. “I see it even worse because this just can’t happen anymore . . . I think people are tired of this stuff happening.”

Marsh said oppression of African Americans in the U.S., is a generational problem.

“At 41 years of age, I can’t say I was a slave,” Marsh said. “But my great great grandparents were slaves . . . that mindset is passed on generation to generation to generation.

“And when you cannot amass generational wealth and you have to start over with every generation, that’s a problem too. I think having uncomfortable conversations with our white counterparts will help because I think many just don’t know the oppression is generational.”

Marsh said police officials can change their hiring practices.

“If I’m hiring police, I might want to hire some who are from that city, that walk those streets, that have some sense of community pride,” Marsh said. “So now they know the temperature of what’s going on in these neighbourhoods and won’t be so quick to pull out a gun and shoot because they’ve watched that kid grow up.

“When you stop foot patrols and take the police off the streets and slap them in cars, you turn the police force into not protecting and serving but to show up and cause problems . . . you change the whole concept of what we know police to do.”

And Marsh has an idea regarding how to potentially stem police brutality.

“Police officers who commit these atrocities against innocent people should be banned from legally carrying a firearm for the rest of their life,” Marsh said. “They should never be able to work in law enforcement ever again and their pensions should be given to the victims’ families.

“These are things we’re going to have to do because obviously kneeling is a problem, obviously speaking out is problem.”

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