Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue collars wanna git 'er dun

CFL players want to be on the football field doing their thing, not at the negotiating table

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Sometime in the days ahead -- everybody associated with the Canadian Football League hopes it's sooner, not later -- the owners and players' association will get together and hammer out a deal.

In the meantime, a scene played out Saturday here in Winnipeg with the Blue Bombers that would be virtually the same in the eight other cities on the CFL map: Veterans reported for medicals and testing, slapped some backs, shook some hands and got ready to go to work today with the opening of training camp.

All this labour stuff now that the collective-bargaining agreement has expired? Most players just want the guys in suits to get the thing done and get it done yesterday.

"I'm just another guy. I play football. I'm behind the players, that's basically what I can tell you," said Bomber linebacker Korey Banks. "If they feel we have to do what we have to do, we have to do what we have to do.

"I only know what they're showing you guys. That's the bottom line. I really don't know that much about it. I really don't give it that much thought, to be honest with you. I'm just here, showing up and getting ready for the season. As far as I'm concerned, right now that's all I know: getting ready for the season.

"At the end of the day, that's your job. We're all employed right now and we're going to do our duties and that's what we showed up to do."

The Bombers made three players available to the media on Saturday -- Banks, Jason Vega and Rory Kohlert -- and their answers were virtually identical. The common theme? Worry only about what you can control and in the meantime punch the clock and get ready for the season... whenever it might start.

The potential logistical problems if there is a strike -- players having to find a place to live and a place to practice, for example -- could be monumental. Or... not.

"I just show up to work and if I'm told I'm not supposed to be at work, then I go home, have a coffee and just kinda relax," said Vega. "Otherwise, I'll be here to work and we'll be out here at practising and going to meetings.

"I woke up this morning and everything was fine. As long as we're here and we're here to work, there's nothing wrong with me. We're just here to work."

But there's also this reality: CFL players aren't millionaires 10 times over like their counterparts in the NHL, NFL and NBA who recently went through labour wars. They have car payments, mortgages, bills to pay. That's long been part of the appeal of the league to its fans -- the image of the players as regular Joes -- but it's also a big reason why the CFL's offer came late and they are pushing for it to be put to a vote by the CFLPA.

The players might see that as dirty tactics, but it's also basic negotiating 101.

Then again, the Bombers are scheduled to play a preseason game in eight days and any lost gate -- in a gate-driven league -- stings a franchise's bottom line.

"I can only speak for myself because the only finances I know of are mine," said Banks when asked about the financial pressures he and his brethren might soon face. "Situations are going to present themselves that are going to be tough. But that's why you have unions. You may go through some things you can't control.

"If your finances are not right... you may have to get a job. You know, a working job."

In the meantime, while the two sides argue over revenue sharing and who gets what chunk of the new TV money, veteran quarterback Henry Burris might have perfectly summed up the thinking of the vast majority of players in an interview with Don Brennan of The Ottawa Sun on Friday.

"Let's stop all the media bullcrap and let's get a deal done face to face, kick all this pride to the side," said Burris. "Because it's bigger than what those guys are in the meeting rooms.

"That stuff (the back and forth negotiating) should have happened back in January or February. Now, I call this nut cutting time. It's the 11th hour. We need to make this happen right now. We put all those guys in position for a reason. Now they need to live up to it and do their jobs. Because I know if I didn't do my job on game day, I'd lose my job.

"We need the league to sit down, we need the PA reps to sit down... we need to get this settled upon and get back on the field so we can do our jobs."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2014 B5

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