There are few situations that a football club can face that are more difficult to handle than what transpired last Thursday.
To recap, after losing Brendon LaBatte to Saskatchewan, and Greg Carr and Don Oramasionwu to Edmonton, two young members of the Winnipeg football club tweeted their displeasure about both the departure of their friends, and their thoughts on the successes and failures of their team in free agency.
The fact that players were disgruntled after the loss of a number of their compadres is nothing new or unusual in the world of professional sport. There never was a player cut, lost to free agency, or traded, that didn't affect somebody or another in a negative fashion. The way and the means by which they expressed it, though, is relatively new and unusual (Twitter), and a sure-fire way for a player to discover just how valuable they are to a football team.
The most put off I have ever been with management in my tenure with this football club was when we lost free agent Brian Clark to the Calgary Stampeders in 2004. For the grand sum of around $5,000, we lost what I felt was the best linebacker on our roster at the time, who, as history showed, still had his best football in front of him, including a divisional and CFL all-star season in 2006.
For at least the next couple of years, I was continually reminded of what I felt was a mistake in judgement every time we played the Stamps, especially because Brian made it a point not only to pinball Charlie Roberts in the backfield on a consistent basis, but to disrupt our offence with great impunity.
Twitter wasn't around back then, but I had this column and believe you me, it crossed my mind more than a time or two to use it to express my unhappiness with this decision. Lucky for me though, I was able to recognize the bigger picture, that the consequences of publicly expressing my unhappiness about losing Clark would far outweigh the brief satisfaction I would feel from condemning my employer, and that I knew it would be an unwinnable situation to create.
Truth be told, football is such an emotional game and its players are often so passionate and volatile, I had to create my own rule for penning this very column. If I ever wrote an opinion when emotionally charged, I would not submit it until the next day after I had read it again. Had I not followed this rule, you better believe my time with the Winnipeg Football Club would never have reached 11 years.
On a football team, when you question the competency and veracity of your leadership -- especially that leadership that just took you to the Grey Cup and affords you your means of making a living -- you cross a line that cannot be undone, and create a no-win scenario for both the football club and yourself.
If the club outright releases the offending players they negatively impact the skill set of their football team and spark further resentment from other athletes. If they do nothing they are practically endorsing future occurrences from other players who are watching, and know that they just got a free pass for insolence. It is not a situation I would want to deliberate over.
It would seem like a fine would be the best way to mediate punitive measures in this scenario, especially since the comments were obviously a knee-jerk reaction to an emotional situation, but fining players in the off-season in the CFL is easier said than done. Fines are rarely, if ever, enacted or enforced in the off-season because of the logistics and problems inherent in enforcing them. You can be certain, though, that at the start of this upcoming season, there will be new social media policies in place for both the teams and the league.
If you play in any environment long enough, there will be a situation that arises that boils your blood. What you choose to do in that next hour or day that follows will often define not only the extent of your tenure with that franchise, but how you will be viewed as a player throughout the league. If you are a reactionary person and player, or often find yourself at the mercy of your temper, it is time to weigh the positives and negatives of having a Twitter account. After all, how does this social medium of expression benefit you versus what can it potentially cost you?
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, usually appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.