One writer’s CFL All-Star saviour

Bob Dunn
Distant Replay

And then there was the time that a CFL All-Star saved my life…okay, it’s a stretch, but that’s what it felt like.

I was covering the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ training camp and writing about a new running back, Amos Van Pelt, who was to partner backfield star Dave Raimey. Van Pelt signed a contract at camp, an event that — while it didn’t make headlines — was worth reporting and an event that made Van Pelt a happy guy. My story made reference to his smile, and his “pearly-white teeth.”

Van Pelt was Black. So was Raimey. Admittedly, I was young and naive, unable to know political correctness from political science, although I’m not sure the former even existed in the sixties. Raimey, who could charitably be called an activist, knew and he was waiting for me the next day. He wasn’t just mad, he was in a rage, and I was his target.

That’s when my All-Star saviour stepped between his teammate and the spindly-armed sportswriter. Ernie Pitts, also Black, recognized this was not the racial slur Raimey thought it was, for which I was incredibly grateful.

There’s a couple of ironies.

Days earlier, I’d written a feature on Van Pelt. Guess who I quoted, at length, in the story? Raimey. “Van Pelt is quiet, intelligent and very polite,” Raimey said. “He is potentially great. Barring injury, he’s going to be one of the best in this league, or any league.”

More irony…the next year, all four principals were gone. Raimey was traded to Toronto. Van Pelt was out of football, forever. Pitts and I both went to Vancouver in separate deals — he was traded to the Lions, I was either picked up on newspaper waivers or signed as a free agent (take your pick).

I also covered some football out west, and one day was sitting at Empire Stadium with Ernie Pitts. The Raimey incident never came up. Racism did.

“When you look at me,” Ernie said, “what do you see first: another man, or a Black man?”

I thought carefully before giving him an honest answer (who wants to lie to a saviour?)

“A Black man.”

Pitts was trying to explain how Blacks believe whites are unknowingly fundamentally racist. My answer troubled me, and still does. Eventually, I realized (or rationalized) that if I looked at a blonde woman, what I saw first was a blonde.

As life turned out, that was our last conversation. A few days after it, in a domestic dispute, Pitts was shot and killed in Colorado. I never had a chance to continue the discussion with “my saviour.”

Post expires at 11:59pm on Tuesday September 21st, 2021