Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/8/2017 (1604 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
After weeks of making headlines for all the right reasons, the Canadian Football League suddenly became entrenched in controversy early Monday when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced the hiring of disgraced former NCAA coach Art Briles.
Briles was fired as the head coach of Baylor University’s football team in May 2016 after it was alleged he played an active role in covering up a series of sexual assaults by his players. The details of what happened under Briles’ leadership include allegations of at least 52 sexual assauts committed by 31 players between 2011 and 2014. All of these incidents have been documented in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former Baylor student, five of which are reported gang rapes.
Briles has always claimed innocence.
Needless to say, the firestorm that ensued following his hiring was fierce. Mobs gathered over social media, with angry messages rooting from across Canada and the U.S. The criticism was aimed mostly at the Tiger-Cats, but the CFL also became a central target for frustrated fans wanting to know how something like this could happen.
After all, the CFL was recently lauded for a quick response to white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville, Va.
With a plan in place for later this season to distribute T-shirts with the slogan "Diversity is Strength" emblazoned on the front and on the back a list of last names of current and former players from different ethnicities, the CFL worked tirelessly to have them delivered early. They debuted at the Saskatchewan Roughriders-B.C. Lions game on Aug. 13. Coaches and non-participating players have worn the shirts on the sidelines ever since.
Within the T-shirt campaign came a clear message: the CFL stands for equality. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie then went on a brief media tour, including an appearance on CNN, where he was celebrated for the league’s swift actions. "We were inclusive before inclusive was cool," Ambrosie said, echoing one of his favourite catchphrases since taking over the position in June.
Given that, it’s easy to imagine what the CFL head office was thinking when news broke that Briles was now a member of its league. But instead of acting quickly, this time the CFL went dark.
And now, after the accounts of multiple CFL sources close to the situation, there appears to be a reason why.
Sources have told the Free Press that when news broke Monday morning that Briles was joining the Ticats as an assistant coach, a number of high-ranking employees were left feeling shocked, with some completely unaware it had even been talked about, let alone planned. Another source, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation by the league, said Ambrosie did indeed speak with Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell about hiring Briles prior to Monday's official announcement. He also informed Briles would be hired on Monday, or "at least early this week."
The argument that Ambrosie knew that Hamilton was planning to hire Briles shouldn’t come as a surprise. Mitchell confirmed it early Monday. While the CFL had gone silent, Mitchell was doing an interview with football blog 3downnation, where he defended the move to add Briles to his coaching staff, despite mounting criticism against it.
He also claimed the league was aware of what was happening.
"They were," Mitchell told Drew Edwards, editor-in-chief of 3downnation, when asked if the league knew about the hiring prior to the announcement. Mitchell added, "I spoke to the league about it as a potential concept and had a good discussion about it, a good deliberation about it."
The term "league" can be a vague one, as there are a few high-ranking officials that deal with varying magnitudes of the day-to-day business. But a source confirmed those conversations were with Ambrosie, adding: "(Mitchell) would not have said that unless he spoke to the league office. And the person he’s going to talk to in the league office, who is going to have his back, would be the commissioner. Scott has been around long enough to know who to talk to."
If Ambrosie had felt strongly about not having Briles be part of the CFL, he should have voiced his disapproval during early deliberations. If he felt there was a real fear Briles’ reputation would have lasting damage for the league, Ambrosie had the jurisdiction to squash the hiring right then and there.
As part of article 10 of the Canadian Football League Constitution, it states the commissioner shall be responsible for: "...the discipline and deportment of players, coaches, employees, officials, team executives, and Member Clubs where their conduct, actions, or behaviour, in the opinion of the Commissioner, brings disrepute to the League or game of football."
It’s not the first time this clause has been enacted to prevent a person or player from joining the CFL.
It was used to stop a team from chasing after running back Ray Rice after he was suspended by the NFL in 2014 when video evidence showed him knocking out his then fiancée, now wife, and dragging her out of an Atlantic City hotel elevator. The same thing happened with Greg Hardy, another NFLer, whose long list of domestic abuse accusations led the CFL to ensure he, too, wouldn’t be arriving in Canada. Earlier this season, after news broke that Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Justin Cox was facing a domestic abuse charge for roughing up his girlfriend, the CFL made it clear he wasn’t welcome here by publicly announcing they wouldn’t sign off on another contract. Cox had only been charged at the time.
That Ambrosie didn’t initially stop the signing of Briles isn’t evidence of bad character or proof he was willing to overlook what happened at Baylor.
In fact, Ambrosie, in the months he’s been at the CFL, has brought a real passion and love for the game. A first-round draft pick in 1985, the Winnipeg native played nine seasons in the CFL, winning the Grey Cup with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1993. Ambrosie has been open about his love for the players and is well received by fans from coast to coast. He’s been genuine when addressing reporters and has voiced his vision for running a more transparent office.
It could be argued his decision to allow such a signing was rooted from his discussion with and trust in Mitchell, who claimed in his interview Monday the team had done it’s due diligence, including dozens of interviews with former staff and even law officials.
But on Monday, for nearly 10 hours, the league provided few updates on the situation, finally breaking the silence in the late afternoon simply to say discussions with Ticats offcials were ongoing.
The silence with the way the CFL was handling the issue was both off their usual script and in stark contrast to that of a commissioner who, up to that point, had preferred to address issues right away rather than hide from the public.
That’s because Ambrosie had left for Hamilton to deal with the Ticats’ front office in person. This could be seen as sound business practice, given Toronto, where the CFL head office is located, is less than an hour’s trek from Hamilton. According to sources, the meeting was held to figure out what to do.
While Mitchell was under the impression the league already knew he was planning to hire Briles, sources say neither he nor Ambrosie were aware of just how much backlash the move would create. It didn’t take long to realize the impact was severe and only a reversal of the decision would help save face.
Because of that, according to sources, the discussions in Hamilton Monday evening became focused on determining who would shoulder the most blame for the screw-up.
The obvious answer would be the Tiger-Cats, since they created the mess in the first place and Ambrosie is still new to the job. While Hamilton may have had a case to push back, claiming the league was aware of their motives, it’s hard to think that argument would hold up against the other eight clubs in the CFL, all of which could face considerable losses if the league took the blame.
A decision was made and at 8:05 p.m. the league released a joint statement between the CFL and Tiger-Cats, stating Briles was no longer a member of the team.
On Tuesday, only Mitchell and Young would speak about the events from the night before, dodging the few questions asked by media about the league’s involvement. Seemingly willing to play the game with the CFL office, Mitchell and Young went a step further by crediting Ambrosie’s leadership for finding a solution. Neither of them seemed all that sorry for the damage of their actions — Mitchell stayed consistent with his defiant mood about Briles’ innocence in the scandal at Baylor — but more so that they had to make an apology at all.
As for Ambrosie, he has yet to surface despite all the gratitude he’s been shown from the Tiger-Cats organization and fans around the league for his decision to remove Briles.
"Art will not be coaching in our league. It’s the right decision, one that many were calling for on all sides, and it was made (Monday)," the league office said Tuesday. "If anything changes, we’ll let you know."
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.