Gridiron Underground


Canada couldn’t guarantee them greatness but offered the freedom and opportunity they needed to achieve it.

In 1951, Bernie Custis, a standout quarterback at Syracuse, has his invitation to the national East-West all-star game rescinded when the organizers discover he is black. In 1972, Chuck Ealey, unbeaten in his college career, was never drafted after announcing that he would only accept a quarterback position.

With the NFL insisting that a black player could not lead a team, generations of promising athletes were denied a chance to compete at the highest levels. But with their minds set on getting the recognition they deserved, many of them found that Canadian teams were ready to welcome them aboard.

Gridiron Underground traces the lifeline that brought talented African-American players who were overlooked, ignored, or prevented from playing football in their home country to Canada, from the 1940s right through to the present day. These are tales of strangers in a strange land forging new identities, overcoming obstacles in their path, and tapping into a rich vein of the human spirit that runs through the frozen football fields of Canada.


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About the Author

James R. Wallen

Posted by KathrynB on March 27, 2018
James R. Wallen photo

James R. Wallen

James R. Wallen is a writer and filmmaker. He has written professionally for radio drama, stage, prime time animation, feature films, documentary films and television, and has published two novels. His film Gridiron Underground has aired on PBS. He lives in Sarnia, Ontario.