Chuck Ealey has always been a winner – on and off the field.
The quarterback-turned-successful financial industry leader never lost a football game in high school or at the University of Toledo, where he graduated with a business economics degree. His teams won 53 straight games, including 35 at Toledo, which remains a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record.
In his three years at Notre Dame High School in Portsmouth, he led the team to its first-ever state championship in 1967. That success transcended to university, where he secured three straight Tangerine Bowls and was the Most Valuable Player in each contest. He was also the Mid-Atlantic Conference top player for three consecutive seasons.
Despite his remarkable accomplishments, Ealey was overlooked in the 1972 National Football League (NFL) draft because of his skin colour and the position he played. When then Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram offered Ealey the opportunity to run a 40-yard dash for time, he graciously declined the opportunity to try to make an NFL team as a defensive back and headed to Canada.
If switching countries was what it was going to take to play quarterback, Ealey was prepared to make that adjustment. Up until that time, five Black quarterbacks had played in the Canadian Football League (CFL), but just one had minimal success. Sandy Stephens threw for 2,800 yards in two seasons before going to the NFL as a fullback.
Ealey brought his winnings ways to the CFL, leading the Hamilton Tiger Cats to an 11-3 record and a Grey Cup title in his first year. He was also the Grey Cup MVP and the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie.
The CFL import played seven seasons, including two with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 48 games with the Toronto Argonauts, passing for 13,326 yards and 82 touchdowns before suffering a career-ending collapsed lung injury in 1978.
More important, he paved the way for several Black American quarterbacks, who were rejected in their home country, to enjoy immense success north of the border.
Four years ago, Ealey returned to Ohio for his high school’s 40th reunion. Accompanying him was daughter, Jael Ealey Richardson, who knew little of her dad’s past. At the time, she didn’t know why he came to Canada, leaving the Portsmouth projects and its railroad tracks, where he first learned to throw by pelting stones at the passing railway cars.
The outcome of that trip and some of Ealey’s never-before-told-stories are captured in The Stone Thrower, an engaging father-daughter memoir that was launched last week at The Great Hall.
“The biggest challenges in putting this book together were getting him to open up and trying to structure the story so that it did honour to him,” said Richardson, who teaches Literature and Communications at Humber College. “My dad is a very private man and he’s not comfortable when it comes to talking about race and why he did not make it in the NFL. He has a different way of coping with some things which is just not to discuss them in public.”
The Stone Thrower is a moving story about race and destiny written by a daughter who is also seeking answers about her own Black history. Using insightful interviews, archival records and her personal reflections, Richardson’s journey to learn about her father’s past led to discoveries about herself and what it means to be Black in Canada.
“In the months that followed the trip to Portsmouth, I would also discover things about American history and the civil rights movement that would deepen my understanding of Black history,” the married mother of a young son wrote in the book. “I would begin to resolve my doubts about whether or not I was Black enough and what it meant to be Canadian – reflections that would influence my new life as a mother.”
Ealey, who is also a motivational speaker, said he enjoyed collaborating with his daughter on the project.
“There were some things that were very difficult to talk about because I am a private person,” he said. “I didn’t quite say everything, but I told her enough that would get points across that she was looking for. Some of the issues were tough for me to grapple with personally.”
Following a successful football career, Ealey joined Investors Group in 1987. As the regional director, he facilitates a training program that helps the organization’s consultants reach their full potential.
Ealey doesn’t regret moving to Canada.
“It came down to a choice between whether I wanted to stay in the United States and do something different or come here and do what I wanted to do,” said Ealey, who was inducted into the Mississauga Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. “I made the right choice by doing the right thing for me. That choice worked out real well.”
In addition to being shut out from the NFL because he refused to play a position other than quarterback, Ealey has been excluded from the College Football Hall of Fame because of a technicality.
He’s unable to land on the ballot for election because the rules state that a candidate must have received First Team All-American acknowledgment by a recognized media outlet. Ealey received a similar recognition in 1972 from The Football News, which was not an approved entity at the time.
As part of the celebrations to mark the 100th Grey Cup anniversary this year, Ealey’s inspirational story is one of eight to be featured in an original documentary film series. Commissioned by Bell Media, Engraved on a Nation: Stories of the Grey Cup, the CFL and Canada will demonstrate how the CFL and the Grey Cup have become an intrinsic part of Canadian heritage.
Charles Officer directed the Ealey film.
“The project was quite challenging because I had never been to Portsmouth before last May when I spent five days there with Jael and Chuck,” recounted Officer whose first directorial production, When Morning Comes, premiered at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival. “It was an incredible experience working with them and just getting to know Chuck and learn about some of his accomplishments.”
The Stone Thrower is available at A Different Booklist, 746 Bathurst St.
By RON FANFAIR