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This article was published 21/3/2018 (876 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On a day designed to celebrate the Canadian Football League, a move by the league’s players association created a dark cloud that obscured the sunlight the CFL wanted to enjoy.
You could argue that, in perhaps the best way possible, the players crashed their own party.
"The real message is the players are looking to find a remedy for workplace injuries," CFL Players Association executive director Brian Ramsay told the Free Press Wednesday.
"We’re trying to get that message through to the decision-makers at the club level."
It was on Sunday that the CFLPA, representing current and former players, filed a formal grievance against the league. The claim challenged the CFL and its nine member clubs on what they believe is an intentional reluctance to act on an obligation to care for its players, particularly those who suffer from long-term injuries.
But instead of waiting until CFL Week — a five-day event that kicked off Wednesday in Winnipeg and honours players of the past, present and future — was over, the CFLPA chose the morning the festivities were supposed to begin to make its grievance public.
"Timing is directly related to the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada," said Ramsay.
"There are solutions out there and we’re confident there are."
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear former CFL player Arland Bruce III’s concussion lawsuit against the league and former commissioner Mark Cohon. Bruce, who played for several teams, including the Blue Bombers, filed the suit in B.C., where the provincial Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal both rejected the claim, citing a previous ruling directing unionized workers to settle injury claims via arbitration, not in the courts.
In the suit, Bruce claimed repeated head injuries have left him with a host of debilitating medical conditions.
Following the decision, the league issued a statement that seemed to suggest it meant the end of further claims relating to lingering injuries. Current CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie refuses to acknowledge the connection between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated trauma to the head.
“Timing is directly related to the decision by the Supreme Court of Canada. There are solutions out there and we’re confident there are.”
— CFL Players Association executive director Brian Ramsay
"The CFL is very pleased with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision," the statement read.
"We hope that this decision brings finality to any proceedings in the courts with respect to concussion litigation against the CFL."
That prompted the CFLPA to file its grievance three days later.
"The position that the league took... really took away a remedy for players," Ramsay said. "Quite frankly, it has forced the players’ hand on what options are available to them to find a remedy for injuries in the workplace."
While millions of people around the country are able to go to work each morning knowing that in the event of a catastrophic injury they’d be covered by their employer’s insurance, CFL players are not.
Instead, teams offer players a 12-month window of coverage that lasts exactly a year from the day they’re injured. That means in the event of an injury so serious that it involves multiple surgeries, followed by months of rehab, teams are obligated to provide help just for that designated time. After that, it’s no longer their problem.
While Ramsay seems to appreciate the moves made by Ambrosie to make the game safer — he has eliminated all padded practices during the regular season and has added an extra bye week to give players more time to rest between games — he said this isn’t simply a player-safety issue. Instead, it’s about finding a way to reach a "fair" agreement when it comes to rehabilitation post-injury, one that works for both sides and, most importantly, gives players the chance to properly heal in the event they suffer a catastrophic event.
Whether a deal can be reached may have other implications on the league, too. With the inevitable renegotiation of the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which is up before the start of next season, it’s fair to believe that any roadblocks from these negotiations will have an impact on whatever discussions take place then.
"This shouldn’t be something that’s pushed into bargaining because we’re going to kick off the season in a few weeks," said Ramsay. "Quite frankly, I don’t know what their argument is, other than they don’t want to find a solution? There just isn’t an appetite from them and so it’s important from the players’ perspective to bring this out to the forefront."
Ramsay believes the CFLPA should be aiming its message primarily at the league’s board of governors — the people who have the most power to make change. As commissioner, Ambrosie works on behalf of the board, and when asked about the issue Wednesday following his induction into the Manitoba Football Hall of Fame, Ambrosie expressed his confidence in the process.
"We’ve acknowledged receipt of their grievance and we’ll let the grievance process that’s defined by the CBA work its way through," said Ambrosie.
The CFLPA is hoping the process moves quickly, as players get ready to hit the field for training camp in May.
"From a players’ point of view there’s nothing more they want than to see the league around for another 106 years," said Ramsay. "So to have the conversations to find a remedy, we have to get to a point where there’s a suitable option for the players who are risking injury on the field. Because right now there isn’t — it’s inadequate."
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.
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