Rising GM Deidre Donaldson values ​​the CFL’s Women in Football program

GUELPH, Ont. — Deidre Donaldson can’t believe how quickly time has passed. A native of Brampton, Ontario, she is completing her four-week stint with the Toronto Argonauts as part of the CFL’s inaugural Women in Football program.

GUELPH, Ont. — Deidre Donaldson can’t believe how quickly time has passed.

A native of Brampton, Ontario, she is completing 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 to 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 incredible, from start to finish…it was a whirlwind,” said the energetic Donaldson from Argos training camp at Alumni Field. “I feel like I arrived here yesterday.

“I would go all 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 for that. “

The 25-year-old has worked in Toronto’s front office. While Donaldson has previous experience in the sport as a player, coach, administrator, official and scout, she said her time with the Argos has both rounded out her development and provided her perspective on the pro game business.

“Squad management is very interesting to me,” said Donaldson, who aspires to become professional football’s first black general manager. “It’s 100 percent a business, there’s a lot to think about at every step. I know football, let’s not mix that up. But in terms of CFL football, Canadian football, it’s very different from what I know so I get that and from a front office perspective it’s very different and taught me a lot.”

Donaldson graduated from Brock University in 2019 with a BS in Sports Management and a minor in French. She is currently the Athletics Coordinator at the Athlete Institute in Orangeville, Ontario.

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Donaldson worked as a video assistant during Spring League 2021. She is also currently a Mid-Atlantic Territory Scout for All22 – the Global Scouting Network and holds a Scouting Certification from The Scouting Academy and a CFL Scouting Certification from The Global Scouting Network.

She served as the assistant recruiting coordinator for the U of T’s football program (July 2019 to February 2020) and worked as a team manager and recruiting assistant for the Brock women’s basketball team while attending school. However, she would like to one day work full-time in a football front office.

“One hundred percent, because I know when I’m going to get where I want to be, I’m going to look back at it,” she said. “I’ll be grateful, but I also know that the people who come up don’t have to go through what I did in order for me to be able to help other people who come up.”

And while she appreciates the CFL initiative, Donaldson wonders why those in her position need programs like this to help them along the way.

“It’s my frustration not just with football but with sport in general,” she said. “I don’t think I have to rely on a diversity program to get my foot in the door… but if I have to do it and prove myself, then I will do it.

“I don’t feel like a pioneer, but I definitely understand the title.”

Donaldson’s time with Toronto ends on Saturday, but she will participate in the discussions while the Argos make their final roster decisions.

“I was involved when we had to cut the squad down to 75 (last weekend) and it was really difficult but a great learning experience,” she said.

Women are changing the culture of professional football, especially in the NFL. Last year, 38.8 percent worked in the league office and 12 as assistant coaches.

And in February, Tanya Walter became the CFL’s first full-time coach when she joined the BC Lions.

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Catherine Raiche of Montreal is listed as the vice president of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles. However, last month there were reports that she would join the Cleveland Browns as assistant GM and vice president of football operations.

Raiche began playing professional football in 2015 with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.

“I’m actually in touch with Catherine quite a bit,” Donaldson said. “We’ve talked to each other for the last few years.

“I try to update her on my work and congratulate her on her achievements.”

She doesn’t have to look far in the Toronto front office to find a trailblazer. In 2004, GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons became the CFL’s first black head coach to win the Gray Cup with the Argos.

“He’s been helping me for probably six hours since I’ve been here,” Donaldson said. “He actually took me with him and for about an hour and a half we had a very long talk and it was one of the best moments of my life.

“He expressed that he was really happy that I was a part of it, he wanted me to know he had my back during this program and after, and basically called me family. There’s nothing better than that. Just seeing him work, talk to people, communicate and lead, that’s what I want to do.”

Raiche is expected to eventually become an NFL general manager, while Susan Tose Spencer remains the first and only female GM in league history (1983 with Philadelphia). Joanne Polak has the distinction of being the CFL’s first female GM (1989-91 with Ottawa).

“It (Raiche’s ascension) shows that getting to the position she’s in isn’t impossible,” Donaldson said. “I know I wouldn’t be the first (female) GM, but I would definitely take the first black (female) GM, that’s for sure.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 2, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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