Be who you are: Jeremiah Masoli’s Pink Shirt Day Message
Senior Program Manager, Tech for Good & TELUS Wise
Falling on February 22 this year, Pink Shirt Day is dedicated to raising awareness of bullying and supporting programs that foster children’s healthy self-esteem. Each year, thousands of students and supporters wear pink on this day, in a united stand against bullying.
To mark Pink Shirt Day this year, we had a great conversation with Jeremiah Masoli, quarterback for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Jeremiah started playing football when he was 10. He played college football at the City College of San Francisco, the University of Oregon and the University of Mississippi. In 2012, he joined the Canadian Football League (CFL), playing for the Edmonton Elks. In 2013, he was traded to the Hamiton Tiger-Cats where he played 8 seasons. He was named a CFL East All-Star in 2018 and joined the Ottawa Redblacks in 2022. Jeremiah shares the obstacles he confronted in sport, his experiences with bullying and why he remains committed to the #EndBullying All-Stars Program.
Q: How did you get involved in sports? What obstacles did you confront?
JM: My parents wanted me to understand the values of team sports from a very early age. At four, I started playing T-ball. At 10, I started playing football. I fell in love with the sport. I was fortunate to play all positions as I developed my game, which gave me an appreciation for all angles of the game. I especially connected with the team aspect.
My parents were incredibly loving and supportive. My dad taught me a lot about work ethic and what it takes to realize your dreams, which for me, was to play quarterback. When I started high school in the early 2000’s, there were very few Polynesian or Samoan kids playing quarterback. As a Samoan, people judged me, suggesting that I couldn’t throw the ball or play the game at a cerebral level. I faced inherent prejudice and bias but pushed through it.
Q: How did you navigate the situation and go on to become an amazing quarterback?
JM: I was very fortunate to have a lot of support. I put in the work and had people looking out for me. My parents, family, mentors and coaches helped me find my way. When I was younger, I was a bit hard-headed and thought I had all the answers. I saw the bright lights and the NFL on the horizon. I went my own way to prepare for that, against the advice of people who cared about me. I learned a lot of important lessons, and recognize the value of surrounding yourself with a strong support network.
Now, I am very protective of myself and my energy. I choose my friends wisely. I want to be around like-minded people and I am more discerning about the environment and people I have around me. I’m also fortunate to be in a position where I’m now able to help young people accomplish their goals and realize their dreams.
Q: What value has sport brought to your life? For kids passionate about sports, what can they learn most from pursuing that passion?
JM: Sport has been priceless for me. I’ve learned so many important life lessons about what it takes to earn success, work towards a goal and what it means to fail and keep going. I’ve also learned how to stay level. Sports offers so many highs and lows, so it’s critical to know how to stay level. There is also such a valuable social aspect to sports. I have made lifelong friends I know I can count on forever, on the field and off the field. We are all there for each other. Always.
For kids that want to pursue their passion for sports, it’s important to know it’s a journey. On the way to their goals – whether it’s a championship or MVP award – they will most certainly find out who they really are. Sport – and all the highs and lows that come with it -- gives you a unique opportunity to develop your personality, your will and your heart. It’s not just about the sport. It’s also about the journey of self-discovery and figuring out who you want to be.
Q: What are your personal experiences with bullying and sport both offline and online?
JM: In football, you have to be aggressive and physical to be successful. There is a fine line between the required competitive nature and bullying. Growing up I saw bullying. And I was bullied about my heritage. People didn’t have awareness of the harmful effects of bullying then like we do now. So it felt almost normal. Social media has changed everything. It’s a whole new world. I’ve received inappropriate messages on Twitter. It’s sad that that’s our reality now. When my son started school, we had many conversations about bullying and continue to have them consistently. He needs to understand what bullying is and how it can happen in the school yard and online. At his age, it’s important to talk about the fine line between making jokes and hurting people’s feelings.
Q: What is the #EndBullying All Stars program, and when did you get involved?
JM: I got involved with #EndBullying All Stars in 2017. The program has been developed in partnership with TELUS Wise, and teaches kids and parents digital awareness. Without resorting to scare tactics, it’s critical to reinforce that not everything online is safe, monitored or regulated. We go into classrooms (and offer virtual workshops too) to teach kids how to navigate the digital space safely.
I’ve hosted 10 workshops so far. So many kids ask me about what to do if they get bullied or witness a friend being bullied. I always encourage those kids to have the courage to speak up. Talk to their teachers and ask about resources. There are people that care and can support them if they know what’s going on.
Q: If you could share one message with kids about Pink Shirt Day, what would it be?
JM: You can make a difference - it only takes one person to stop the bullying. Be who you are, and you will find your community. Don’t be influenced by what other people think or say. Embrace who you are fully and go after what you want to do in life, no matter what anyone else has to say about it - wear the pink shirt, pursue the sport even if others think you can't, and don’t be afraid to speak up and express yourself.