December 16, 2018

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Masoli on fire in Hamilton, and that's the best thing that could happen in the CFL

Opinion

The entire CFL owes Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli a debt of gratitude right now.

Masoli is doing what CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie refused to do, which is to say Masoli is keeping a domestic abuser off the field and out of the CFL game.

And for that we should all be thankful.

The CFL is a lesser place for allowing a guy like Johnny Manziel a roster spot on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this season and the only thing saving the league from itself right now is that Masoli's record-setting play is keeping Manziel from getting any playing time.

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The entire CFL owes Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli a debt of gratitude right now.

Masoli is doing what CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie refused to do, which is to say Masoli is keeping a domestic abuser off the field and out of the CFL game.

And for that we should all be thankful.

The CFL is a lesser place for allowing a guy like Johnny Manziel a roster spot on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this season and the only thing saving the league from itself right now is that Masoli's record-setting play is keeping Manziel from getting any playing time.

With a 333-yard passing performance in an 18-13 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders last weekend, Masoli has now thrown for 300 yards or more in nine consecutive games going back to last season, tying a CFL record held by Sam Etcheverry and Kent Austin.

Every CFL fan, both inside and outside Hamilton, can only hope Masoli continues his current level of play — and, in the process, continues to banish Manziel to a very humbling spot on the Ticats' sideline.

Ambrosie’s decision last winter to allow Manziel to play in the CFL this season was as cynical as it was cowardly.

Unless you’ve been living underground, you are probably familiar with Manziel’s previous work, both on the field and off of it.

On the field, Manziel was an unmitigated superstar as quarterback for Texas A&M — and then an unmitigated washout as a first-round draft pick of the perennially dysfunctional Cleveland Browns.

But it was Manziel’s reprehensible conduct off the field that ultimately ended his NFL career. Repeated brushes with the law and rehab centres culminated with Manziel’s arrest in January 2016 on charges he threw a former girlfriend to the ground, grabbed her by the neck, struck her on the head so hard he ruptured her eardrum and threw her into a vehicle so forcibly it caused extensive bruising to her back.

At one point, the woman, Colleen Crowley, told police she fled the vehicle and hid in some nearby bushes, only to be discovered by Manziel and forced back into the car. Crowley eventually armed herself with a knife and fled to a nearby home to report the incident after Manziel destroyed her phone.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, left, and backup Johnny Manziel watch the scoreboard during second half CFL action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday, July 5, 2018.

MARK TAYLOR / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, left, and backup Johnny Manziel watch the scoreboard during second half CFL action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday, July 5, 2018.

"She felt like she was going to die or get beaten really bad," the police report reads.

Now, it’s worth repeating, all of this happened just two years ago. This isn’t some ancient allegation being raised now by people with questionable motives.

And what happened to Crowley isn’t really much in dispute — she reported the incident to the police contemporaneously and she has the disturbing photos and medical reports to back up her allegations.

Now, you would think it would go without saying that there is no place in the CFL for someone with Manziel's resumé. Even the NFL — hardly a bastion of enlightened thinking when it comes to domestic violence — suspended him after the Crowley incident, a suspension Manziel has yet to serve because the Browns cut him after the episode and he couldn’t find anyone else dumb enough to hire him again.

Until, that is, he met Ambrosie.

I wrote last January about Ambrosie’s decision to allow Manziel to play north of the border. Looking at those words again this week, I don’t think I could sum it up any better than I did back then:

"Ambrosie... was the chump who announced late last month — between Christmas and New Year’s, when he hoped no one would notice — that the CFL couldn’t live another minute without the addition of a player whose multiple rehab stints, multiple arrests and abject failures on the field had turned a once promising football career into a caricature of all that is wrong with spoiled pro athletes today."

Continuing:

"Ambrosie cleared the player formerly known as ‘Johnny Football’ to play, he announced, after consulting with 'an independent expert on the issue of violence against women' and imposing 'conditions' on Manziel. Oh, and Ambrosie also met with Manziel — once — and found him quite convincing."

Want to know who Ambrosie didn’t meet — or even speak to? Crowley, the woman who Manziel beat up.

Crowley told Freep colleague Jeff Hamilton last February that neither Ambrosie nor anyone else from the CFL contacted her before they decided Manziel was a changed man.

And she, for one, isn’t buying any of it.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, left, is chased by Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Charleston Hughes during second half CFL action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday, July 5, 2018.

MARK TAYLOR / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, left, is chased by Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Charleston Hughes during second half CFL action at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday, July 5, 2018.

"He won’t change due to his denial of the events, his DNA and the enablers he surrounds himself with," she told the Free Press. "Me? I’m stronger now."

All of which brings us around full circle to the tremendous public service Masoli is doing for all of us right now in keeping Manziel off the field, a development that comes to the surprise and consternation of many of those Manziel enablers Crowley was talking about.

Topping the list is a huge swath of the sports media over the border, a sycophantic bunch who are shocked Manziel hasn’t already broken every CFL record in existence, never mind that he’s been relegated to the humbling role of Masoli’s backup.

Here’s the lead to a Manziel story that ran over the weekend on the online portal of CBS Sports:

"When Johnny Manziel agreed to sign a two-year contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the natural presumption was the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round pick would end up playing a significant role for the Canadian Football League team."

"Natural presumption?" "Significant role?"

Only someone that knew absolutely nothing about the CFL would have presumed Manziel, after having not played a professional down since 2015, would come up to Canada three years later and take the league by storm.

Indeed, if there’s an anomaly in the CFL this season at quarterback it’s not that Manziel isn’t playing — very few American QBs get playing time in their first season; rather, the CFL anomaly this year is that another raw rookie American QB, the Bombers’ Chris Streveler, has been playing, and playing well.

Streveler did an admirable job holding down the fort the past month in Matt Nichols’ absence. And with Nichols making his return in a Winnipeg win over B.C. on Saturday, the Bombers have now answered the burning question of how they would use Streveler once Nichols returned: effectively.

Streveler rushed for two touchdowns against B.C. in short-yardage situations, busted off a key 26-yard run in the first half and also threw for 45 yards, hitting on three of five passes, all of it while seeing spot duty in a Paul LaPolice offence that just might be the most potent in the CFL right now.

You want to talk about CFL surprises? It’s not that Manziel isn’t playing, it’s that Streveler is.

Indeed, the only thing surprising about Manziel is that he’s been given a chance to play at all in the CFL this season.

And what is disturbing is that Manziel remains just one broken Masoli ankle away from demonstrating to the world that even in this supposedly enlightened age of #MeToo, the CFL remains the last best refuge for men who beat the crap out of their girlfriends.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Paul Wiecek

Paul Wiecek
Reporter

Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.

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