Football News

Former Raven Nate Behar Becomes a Voice of Anti-Racism for CFL

Written by Jeff Morris

Photo by Cole Lawrence

Former Carleton Raven Nate Behar is waiting to play football again.

For whom he plays and when he plays again in the Canadian Football League remain uncertain at this point. Behar, who played wide receiver for the Ottawa Redblacks last season, is a free agent.

Away from football, however, Behar has been one of the most talked about and visible players in the CFL over the summer. An essay that he wrote after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN titled ‘To Pimp a Movement’ has garnered international attention. Behar, who has always been opinionated on Twitter, has been interviewed by CBC, MacLean’s and other national media outlets. He has made school appearances via Zoom across the country to talk about racism and to share his experiences in dealing with racism throughout his life.

Nate Behar interviewing on CBC radio back in May 2020.

“At first, it was kind of overwhelming and I was a little bit out of my comfort zone,” Behar said of the mainstream media attention he received after penning his essay. “But a lot of people reached out to me and supported me. I heard from a lot of people and from other players around the league and everyone was very positive.”

Behar, like many people, was horrified as he watched the disturbing video of Floyd losing his life after having his neck knelt on by a Minneapolis police officer. History may see that viral video may be the most lasting image of 2020. Some day, COVID-19 will fade away. George Floyd’s death will not. The virus has made us change the way we live our day-to-day lives. George Floyd’s death has made us change the way we look at the world around us.

“When I wrote the essay, it was purely cathartic,” Behar said. “I just had to do something – something to put my thoughts down to clear my mind. I was not thinking about who would read it or how much attention it would get.”

Behar’s father is from Jamaica and grew up in South Florida. Behar’s mother is Jewish and from Israel. No matter what part of the world he has been in, racism has always been something Behar has dealt with.

“I have been called the ‘N’ word in the States, and I have been called the ‘N’ word in Canada,” he said. “We like to think racism isn’t as bad in Canada, but it is there. You always have to live with it and deal with it.”

The first time Behar was called the ‘N’ word was during a minor football game. He was tackled by a group of players from the other team, and one of them used the racial slur at him. Behar was angered and upset, but he did not know who said it. He took his helmet off and was crying. His father knew something was wrong. When he found out what happened, he yelled at the referee and at the coach, and then he took his son home

Perhaps the worst incident Behar had to deal with was while he was a student-athlete at Carleton. In 2016, Behar and several of his teammates went to the Queen’s University homecoming game, as it fell on Carleton’s bye week. Behar was with a couple of friends when they walked by a large gathering of people drinking in front of a large house.  Some words were exchanged, and Behar said before he knew it, he was pinned to a car by a large group of people being called the ‘N’ word. He was sucker-punched during the incident.

About six hours later, he and the four teammates he was with had to walk by the house again. From across the street, he heard one of people in front of the house yell, “Hey, there’s that n—– again.” Behar was attacked and hit in the head with a stick. He was knocked out cold.

Those memories were among the ones that flooded back to Nate Behar when he saw the video of George Floyd.

“There is racism in Canada and in the U.S., but it’s not that one place is worse than the other,” Behar said. “The racism is just different. Canada does not have the same history with slavery as the United States does, but I think that the racism against Indigenous Canadians is similar to the racism problems in the U.S.”

Behar has been actively following the Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero movements for the past several years. Football was drawn into the movement four years ago when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted to take a knee rather than stand during the national anthem. Behar said that while Kaepernick was criticized and ultimately lost his football playing career over his controversial actions, he did bring attention to the issue of systemic racism. Behar wondered how much impact Kaepernick’s actions had on the national and then global reaction to Floyd’s death. Hew said Kaepernick’s actions “certainly planted a lot of seeds.”

While Behar has become somewhat of an accidental voice of anti-racism in Canada, his focus is still on football.

“I don’t know where I am going to be playing next,” he said. “That’s up to my agent. Before the pandemic, there were some offers on the table. I have been working out hard, doing two-a-days, running routes and getting ready to play. But where I will be, I am just getting ready to play and leaving that part of it up to my agent.”

Before the pandemic, Behar was a big part of the Junior Ravens camp and the Carleton Ravens Elite Prospects Program. As a player, Behar is the Ravens’ all-time receiving leader and is tied for the career record with 22 touchdowns. Coaching young players is important to Behar, both to give back to the program but also to be a positive role model for young players.

“Sometimes you hear people say we strive for a world that is colour blind when it comes to racism, but I don’t agree with that,” Behar said. “I want kids to see all colours. I want them to see how they are different from one another, and to embrace those differences. Football and sports bring kids together and will turn kids from different backgrounds into a team. One of the unfortunate things about COVID-19 is that the kids are losing a full season. Not only to they lose a year of playing, but they are losing a year of learning, growing and forming friendships with people from different backgrounds.”

For the full interview with Nate Behar, listen to the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast.