Nate Behar is one of those people who looks comfortable and poised in every situation.
You certainly see it on the football field. The 27-year-old REDBLACKS receiver has had a breakout year in 2022, becoming one of the top pass-catchers in the CFL.
Behar’s comfort zone also extends to business, helping to create a new app that helps pair athletes with business brands and endorsement deals. It extends to his love and passion for the performing arts. And it extends to writing, which Behar creates as skillfully as his pass routes (it’s very much worth your time to look up his powerful essay on race and understanding, following the 2020 murder
of George Floyd).
Behar is even comfortable where most people are not – dealing with conflict and standing up for what’s right. We saw it in Edmonton, where a lowball contract offer led to a holdout right after being drafted in 2017. We saw it again this summer in Regina, when Behar made national headlines for his fiery, no-holds-barred, post-game tear down of a Saskatchewan player, whose dirty hit injured his friend and teammate.
And naturally, Behar is fully comfortable at home in the Glebe, relaxing on the sofa with his best pal, Jorja, his pet rottweiler. That’s where we caught up with the two of them, right after a sweltering, mid-season REDBLACKS’ practice.
Let’s start with the much talked about rant in Regina. During a game on July 8th, teammate Jeremiah Masoli got hurt on a late, low hit and you had that amazing post-game commentary, teeing off on the actions of Garrett Marino. Was there any fallout from that? Any regrets?
I said what I said. I stand by it. I got a strongly worded letter from Mr. Randy (CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie) about my comments, but they would’ve fined me if he thought I was wrong. I have no love lost for Marino and I’m not gonna go into it here. But hearing from some other people, even people that played against him in college, everything I said I know for a fact was 1000% accurate.
For context, here’s an excerpt from Behar’s rant:
“Anybody that cheers for that dude (Marino), supports that dude, cheers when he runs off the field flexing and all that stuff, I hope you find a way to sleep tonight,” Behar said. “The same dude yelling racist sh*t in the bottom of a pile. The same dude who went low on one of the best quarterbacks in this league, one of the best dudes in this league. I literally cannot believe what I witnessed. That was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life.”
Was the rant spontaneous or did you know when the game was over that you had to go out and let people know how you feel?
We were all upset in the locker room and our communications guy, Chris Hofley, gave me the I’m-so-sorry-Nate face. He was like, “I need somebody from the offense to talk to the media.” I looked at him and then I looked at RJ Harris beside me and I was like, “Okay. I’m getting fined. I hope you know that.” And out I went.
At the midway point of the season, you already had more catches in 2022 than you’ve had in any season in your CFL career. Are you starting to get comfortable with a bigger role?
Yeah, absolutely. One of the biggest things for me is I’m acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. That can sometimes be hard because sometimes coaches are under so much pressure that they’re not always trying to fit people into their perfect role. It’s sometimes like, “No, just run my offense.” In Edmonton, there wasn’t really a role that suited me in Jason Maas’s offense. The Canadian wideout there, it always bored me mentally, to be honest. And the inside guy needed to be really, really big and do a lot of stuff. I’d watch Cory Watson deadlift 405 pounds the day before a game.
Last year, I finally started to feel it come to life. Anthony Coombs went down for six weeks, and coach LaPolice was maybe a little surprised I could do some of the things I could do. And now I get to just be who I think I am – a smart guy in the middle with sure hands, toughness, willing to run up to the catch and savvy with my routes. So it’s a breath of fresh air because I finally get to feel like I’m myself, rather than trying to be the person coaches want me to be.
With so many new players, 2022 was supposed to be the REDBLACKS’ turnaround year. But so far, it hasn’t worked out that way.
I think what’s made this year so frustrating has been that everything seems to be here, talent-wise, across the board. So it’s been hard. Moral victories were nice the first two weeks (both close games against Winnipeg). And then the moral victory in the third week was like, “Okay, at least we have games against the East coming up soon.” Then Saskatchewan happens and you lose a guy like Jeremiah and you lose another game. And all of a sudden, there are no moral victories left.
There’s still this level of optimism, I think, which is insane to think about with our record (as of early August). But we just know that we have something and I think that’s important.
You had one of the biggest catches in Ottawa football history. The Gee-Gees led the 2014 Panda Game 31-27 and on the final play, quarterback Jesse Mills hits you with a 55-yard, hail mary pass for Carleton’s game winning touchdown. What are your memories of that incredible play?
It’s pretty awesome. It’s so Ottawa in all of the best ways. Being at Lansdowne, being on the canal, north side versus south side, Carleton versus Ottawa U. It’ll always be one of my favorite memories. Sometimes, thinking back on it, I try to remember which parts are actually real and which parts are time beginning to exaggerate things. It really, really was a special day.
I think one of the best parts was that it was myself and two of my best friends, Kyle VanWynsberghe and Wilson Birch, who are on either side the diamond to go catch the tip. And you know, all the main photos of the play are the three of us running into the end zone, numbers 11, 12, and 13. We were all roommates, housemates. We’re all in a wedding in a few weeks together. Wilson’s getting married. Like that’s just one of those things that like, you can never take away. It’s just really, really special and powerful.
Tell us a little about your life growing up in London, Ontario?
Growing up, it was me, my mom (Mya) and my brother (Jared) for the most part in our house in London, Ontario. My dad (Ray) lived in Toronto. So, she was basically a single mom raising us, doing her thing – she’s a rock star. She had my brother when she was 16, and had me when she was 21. And then, as I was growing up, she went back and finished high school. From about grade one to four, I remember sitting in university classes with her while she got her nursing degree. I remember trying to play hooky from school and my mom said, “Okay, cool. You have to come to class with me.” Single mother stuff.
My brother was my best friend and almost a father figure to me, in a lot of ways. He and his group of friends raised me, for better or worse. They were all sports guys, which is great. We’d go to the field and I’d be the kick returner and seven, eight and nine of them would just try to lay me out.
I also went to a performing arts school from grades four to eight. That’s a little known fact. It’s called Lester B. Pearson school for the arts. I loved that place with all my heart. I played violin, played double bass, piano and drums. I sang and danced and acted and I found a love for Shakespeare. So that was London.
So striving to keep up to your older brother and his older friends, do you think that helped you get to the level you have?
I think it did help me, but at the risk of sounding contrarian, I think it actually helped me for the opposite reason that my brother and my mom gave me unending amounts of love and positive reinforcement. The running joke when I was 16 was like, “Holy crap. We created an ego monster,” because I just thought I could do anything and everything at all times. So it wasn’t necessarily as much of me feeling like the little brother, needing to do better to feel like I belong. It was more like I had the greatest big brother on earth.
Jared would rebound for me in the driveway and say, “Oh no, Nate. Try this turnaround jump shot instead.” Instead of him making me hawk his rebounds down, he was like, “How do I help my little brother be the best he could be?” Now he’s got two little ones of his own, which is the best, because I know they’re getting every ounce of love that a child could ever need, because he really was the greatest.
Did you play other sports?
Yeah, basketball is the main one. There was sort of a seminal moment. I think it was probably grade 10. It was the first moment I ever beat my dad, one on one at basketball. Or I blocked a shot or something. I’ll never forget this. We’re in Toronto, in Yorkville, and he was like, “You’re deciding right now. Are you gonna be a pro basketball player or pro football player?” I said football and he said, “Okay, cool.” And then he threw the basketball away. He is like, go get your cleats from the trunk. And then we ran sprints until I puked and that was it [laughing]. It was all football after that.
What about your personal life? Is it okay if we talk about your partner, Erin?
Oh yeah. I’m always proud to talk about her. Her name is Erin Harris. She’s from Kingston, but she was a U of Ottawa grad. We had known each other for a few years and then just started talking. She’s absolutely phenomenal. We live here in the Glebe together. She owns SoulSpeak Yoga studios – one in Hintonburg and one in Kingston. She’s a rock star.
Let’s talk about your new business venture, which ties into sports. Tell us about the Firework App.
It started from seeing a need, but not actually from the athlete side of things. I had three different friends, all reach out to me. A couple of different business owners I knew who all said, “Hey. I’m launching a product. Can you have some of your athletes market it for me, do some influencer marketing? And you hear it once you say yes. You hear it twice, you say, okay. But the third time you’re like, what? Like what’s going on? Why are they asking me? Then I realized there was nothing really to solve it, to help business owners find athletes.
So, we built an app (TheFirework.app) for both athletes and brands, where brands can say, “Hey, I’m looking for an athlete to market our protein supplements.” Great. And athletes can say, “Hey, I love protein. Let’s do it.”
Throughout our whole discussion, your dog Jorja has been happily and quietly sitting beside you on the couch. Tell us a little bit about her.
She’s named after R & B singer Jorja Smith. She’s three and she’s the cuddliest and biggest princess of all time. Like she just whines to be held and jump in bed, but she’s pretty lovely. I got her when she was eight weeks old in 2019. She kept me sane through that very trying season. That’s my best friend. She has this infectious, goofy smile. People will stop and be like, “She seems really nice for a Rottweiler.” And I’ll say, “Well, you seem really nice for a judgmental person.”
Do you have a message for the fans of Ottawa to help them stay optimistic about the team?
Yeah, absolutely. I think the biggest thing is there’s too much talent here. We have enough talent to win football games. We have a desire to win football games. How things have started, I don’t think is indicative of what we’re capable of or what we’re going to achieve. And because we believe, hopefully that’s enough for R-nation to at least try and believe and stick with us.
By Steve Warne
Photography by Sean Sisk