African Americans have played prominent roles in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and its precursors since 1946. In many cases black Americans have been able to pursue professional football opportunities in the CFL that were for one reason or another unavailable in the United States. Especially in the mid-20th century, many African American players came to Canada to avoid the racially charged atmosphere of segregation-era America. For many years, blacks were better represented in the CFL than they were in the National Football League (NFL), and achieved a number of firsts in the CFL years before the same was accomplished in the NFL. More recently, the CFL has provided opportunities for black, as well as other, Americans unable to break into the NFL.
There were a small number black players in the league now known as the National Football League from its inception in 1920. Following the 1933 season, however, there were no black players in the NFL or any other major-league level professional football association, including the precursors to the Canadian Football League, until 1946. During this period, black players were confined to minor leagues and independent barnstorming teams. At this time, however, college football was much more popular than any professional league.
This was also the time period in which Canadian football began to professionalize. Having evolved out of rugby with the adoption of the forward pass in the 1920s, Canadian football grew in popularity in the subsequent years until teams made up of profession players began to dominate and displace amateur teams. Professionalization meant that teams were able to attract talent from a significantly wider pool. This benefited teams in smaller, primarily western Canadian cities that had a smaller pool from which to draw and were thus at a disadvantage compared to the larger eastern metropolises.
Beginning in 1935 Canadian teams began to recruit American players, a trend that continues today. At this time, the CFL was a legitimate