Aspiring general manager Deidre Donaldson appreciates the CFL’s Women in Football program
Deidre Donaldson can’t believe how quickly time has passed.
The Brampton, Ont., native is wrapping up her four-week stint with the Toronto Argonauts as part of the CFL’s inaugural Women in Football program. The initiative aims to open doors for women in sport with a meaningful and immersive educational experience.
The nine participants — one with each CFL team — worked in football operations, coaching, strength and conditioning, and equipment management.
“It was amazing, from start to finish it was a whirlwind,” said the energetic Donaldson of Argos training camp at Alumni Field. “I feel like I arrived yesterday.
“I would do the whole season if I could, I’ve been trying to ask for it since I started. But four weeks is better than nothing, it wouldn’t have happened without this program, so I’m very grateful. “
The 25-year-old worked at the front office in Toronto. Although Donaldson has previous experience in the sport as a player, coach, administrator, official and scout, she said her time with the Argos has both complemented her development and given her perspective on the business of professional gaming.
“Squad management is very interesting to me,” said Donaldson, who is keen to become professional football’s first black female chief executive. “It’s a 100% business, there’s a lot to think about in every move. I know football, let’s not confuse that. that and from a front office perspective is very different and taught me a lot.”
Donaldson graduated from Brock University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in sports management and a minor in French. She is currently the Sports Coordinator at the Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ontario.
She served as assistant recruiting coordinator for the U of T football program (July 2019-February 2020) and worked as a team manager and recruiting assistant for Brock’s women’s basketball team while attending the ‘school. However, she would like to work full-time in a football front office one day.
“One hundred percent, because I know when I get to where I want to go, I’m going to look back,” she said. “I’ll be grateful, but I also know that people coming in shouldn’t have to go through what I did so I can help other people come in.”
“I don’t feel like a pioneer”
And while she greatly appreciates the CFL initiative, Donaldson wonders why people in her position need such programs to help them on their journey.
“It’s my frustration not just with football, but with sport in general,” she said. “I don’t think I should have to rely on a diversity program to get my foot in the door, but if that’s how I have to do it and prove myself, then that’s what I’m going to do. .
“I don’t feel like a trailblazer but I understand the title for sure.”
Donaldson’s time with Toronto will end on Saturday, but she will participate in discussions as the Argos make their final roster decisions.
“I was sitting when we had to narrow the roster down to 75 (last weekend) and it was really tough but a great learning experience,” she said.
Change the culture
Women are changing the culture of professional football, especially in the NFL. Last year, 38.8 percent made up league headquarters and 12 worked as assistant coaches.
Catherine Raiche of Montreal has been named vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, it was reported last month that she would join the Cleveland Browns as assistant general manager and vice president of football operations.
Raiche made his professional football debut with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL in 2015.
“I actually communicate with Catherine quite often,” Donaldson said. “We’ve been talking for a few years now.
She doesn’t have to look far in Toronto’s reception to find a trailblazer. In 2004, general manager Mike (Pinball) Clemons became the first black CFL head coach to win the Gray Cup, doing so with the Argos.
“He helped me out probably six hours after I got here,” Donaldson said. “He actually drove me around and for about an hour and a half we had a really long conversation and it was one of the best times of my life.
“He expressed that he was really happy that I was a part of this, he wanted me to know that he was supporting me through this program and after and basically called me my family. There’s nothing better than that. Just seeing how it works, talks to people, communicates and leads, that’s something I want to do.”
Raiche is expected to eventually become the NFL’s general manager, while Susan Tose Spencer remains the first and only female general manager in league history (1983 with Philadelphia). Joanne Polak has the distinction of being the CFL’s first female general manager (1989-91 with Ottawa).
“This [Raiche’s ascent] shows it’s not impossible to get to the position she’s in,” Donaldson said. “I know I wouldn’t be the first [female] GM but I would definitely take to become the first Black [female] GM for sure.”