CFL fumbles treatment of players

The CFL may be caught between The Rock and a hard place right now regarding its future, but I'm having a difficult time drumming up much sympathy for the decision-makers given the shady way they're treating their loyal foot soldiers.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/04/2021 (608 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The CFL may be caught between The Rock and a hard place right now regarding its future, but I’m having a difficult time drumming up much sympathy for the decision-makers given the shady way they’re treating their loyal foot soldiers.

While coaches, managers and executives continue to cash their cheques — now approaching 18 months since an actual three-down game was held — the majority of athletes who risk life and limb for a fraction of the price have been left twisting in the wind.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Darryl Dyck CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

No play. No pay. And next to no communication about if or when the situation might change. Which explains why several have seemingly reached a breaking point, turning to social media to lay the smackdown against their employers.

It’s a bad look for a league that can’t stop shooting itself in the foot.

“Do not like the feeling of being left in the dark by the CFL about when we will be reporting or even when they might expect us to report. A ton of us have to tie up loose ends here in the States months in advance before we can head back,” Jackson Jeffcoat, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive end, Tweeted earlier this week from his home in Texas.

He’s bang-on. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie vowed back in February that they were “leaving no stone unturned” with a desire to play a 2021 season despite the ongoing pandemic which wiped out last year’s campaign. But how and when this might occur remains a mystery, now only about four weeks away from when training camps are supposed to open.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Jackson Jeffcoat.

Oh sure, there have been behind-the-scenes meetings happening with organizations, including a virtual gathering on Tuesday involving all the general managers, but it’s clear players aren’t being kept in the loop.

The only recent communication to come their way was a proposal last month in which they were asked to take a 20 per cent pay cut — while playing 100 per cent of the games — that would apply as long as there were no fans in the stands. Not surprisingly, nary a word could be found about what kind of money the bosses would be surrendering.

Apparently in their attempts to turn over stones, the league found a great big boulder to drop on the collective heads of its players, many of whom have already agreed to restructure their contracts prior to this latest insulting ask that comes across more as a demand.

The hypocrisy was noted last week by Montreal quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.

“Edmonton coach really got 500K without coaching a game or a practice,” wrote Adams, following it up with a facepalm emoji. “But they wanted Darian Durant to give back his lil’ signing bonus a couple years ago.. this is nuts how they do us.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Graham Hughes Montreal Alouettes quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.

Scott Milanovich was hired in December 2019 to be the next coach of the Edmonton Football Team, yet never actually took the field. He resigned in January to join the Indianapolis Colts of the NFL to be their quarterbacks coach. However, according to Adams, Milanovich collected a half-million dollars for his 13-months of “work” despite the fact the entire 2020 season was scrubbed due to COVID-19.

Unlike players, coaches contracts are typically guaranteed. Which means the bench bosses of the other eight clubs have also continued getting paid.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/John Woods Scott Milanovich was hired in December 2019 to be the next coach of the Edmonton Football Team.

It should be noted Adams actually has it pretty good compared to many of his fellow players. As a high-profile pivot, he got to cash in a $165,000 signing bonus last season, which was part of his overall $400,000 deal. The vast majority don’t have such a luxury and haven’t received a cent.

That’s no way to run any organization, let alone one which needs the blood and sweat of these players in order to put out a product. Where’s the accountability? Where’s the leadership?

How many times have we been subjected to the “We’re in this together” slogan during the pandemic? That doesn’t apply to the CFL, which apparently prefers more of an “our way or the highway” approach to doing business. Or, more accurately, like it or leave it, which is what some players have already done.

Just look at 28-year-old receiver Bryant Mitchell, who signed with the Bombers in February, then announced his retirement a month later. There are reports of many other players in similar situations, some of them high-profile.

I recognize these are, as the old saying goes, unprecedented times. And I know there are plenty of things still out of the league’s control when it comes to health and safety protocols, the slow vaccination rollout, the ongoing U.S. border closure and, most recently, the introduction of multiple variants.

For all those reasons, it’s incredibly difficult to predict how this might all play out. The situation remains fluid, and what is the case today could quickly change tomorrow. Just look at the NHL here in Canada, where COVID-19 was of little concern through the first two months of the season, only to have a small outbreak in Montreal followed by the league’s biggest one now in Vancouver.

Desperate times no doubt call for desperate measures, which is why there is all this talk of a potential merger with the XFL and the inclusion of wealthy partners such as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson that has created yet another air of uncertainty surrounding both the short and long-term survival of the CFL.

But if the only immediate solution to what ails you is to go hat in hand to the players who have already suffered significant losses, then it might be time to go back to the drawing board. And start looking in the mirror.

One thing that isn’t out of the CFL’s control is how they treat its most important people, especially during what is the most trying, uncertain time of their careers. And right now, the league is coming up painfully short in that department.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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