The Saskatchewan Roughriders wore black armbands in a show of support for their brethren in the Canadian Football League Players’ Association.
And while here in Winnipeg there were no similar visible signs of union solidarity as training camps opened without a collective-bargaining agreement — it expired late last Thursday — it will remain a topic of discussion, at least when the cameras and notepads are turned on the players, until a new deal is reached.
Sunday came and went with nine CFL teams on the field, but with no talks scheduled between the two sides.
Asked what’s new on the negotiating front, Blue Bomber offensive lineman Glenn January — the team’s CFLPA rep – offered this:
"There’s a whole lot new. We’re out here Day 1, my friends are busting their tails trying to get ready for the season. There are no talks scheduled at this time that I’ve heard of. We’re always open to have a sit down with the league. Our intention is to get this resolved before the season starts.
"We’ve reached out to them twice and have been shut down twice. We’re just like that dog that keeps coming back for a beating. We’ll reach out again, I imagine somewhere down the road."
January did say he held a meeting Saturday with the players to provide an update but then turn their focus to the football field when practice started.
"I explained to the guys that you need to understand what’s going on," January said. "But as soon as you walk in these doors we’re Blue Bombers and our goal is to work as hard as we can while we’re here to put ourselves in position to play for the Grey Cup. There’s a lot of stuff going on outside these doors that can be distracting. There’s so much going on for the rookies, there’s so much going on for the new guys and even us learning the offence... there’s so much going through your head and your body is getting worn down. If you start adding other stuff in there, you’re setting yourself up for some failure.
"I told them, ‘Let me handle it, let our executives handle it. That’s who was put in place to do this stuff and they’re doing an excellent job representing us and will continue to do that for us.
"There’s certain guys that are upset with the situation," January added. "They understand what’s going on, they’re not happy with it and that can be expected. But there’s some guys that are unhappy with it but it doesn’t faze them very much. There’s varying levels of concern throughout the locker room. We’re a unified group and that’s one thing that has shone through: we’re all together on this one way or the other, whether it’s out here on the field or with our executive. We’re a unified group across the league. We don’t want to have anything similar to a work stoppage happen, but that’s something is a possibility down the road. I told our guys if it happens, I’ll tell you whenever I find out. I don’t even know and I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon."
Given the CBA backdrop, Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea said he was pleased with the first day of work. A former CFLPA executive himself, he also shook off the notion that the players, ‘being only human’, would be distracted by the lack of contract talks between their union and the league.
"I disagree, respectfully," said O’Shea. "They’re not — and I know this can be twisted any way you want to twist it — they’re not human. They’re professional athletes and in this regard when they get on the practice field they want to practice, they want to win, they want to compete, they want to battle. They want all that stuff. They’re not the regular Joe we find. These guys are professional athletes and they love it."
The first day did serve up its share of injury casualties. Running back Kevin Smith, the former Detroit Lion, suffered a hamstring injury early in the proceedings after catching a pass, as did receiver Jordan Brescasin. Linebacker Jesse Briggs also left with an apparent arm injury (no update was available when O’Shea spoke to the media) and defensive lineman Willie Moseley is day-to-day with a back strain.
Meanwhile, offensive lineman Paul Swiston, who had offseason surgery, was watching but not participating. O’Shea the club will have to wait on him for a few weeks before he gets the green light to return.
Monday’s practice time is: 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and is open to the public.