CFLPA files grievance against league over concussions

The Canadian Football League Players’ Association has filed a grievance against the CFL and all nine member clubs alleging that the league and its teams “have failed and continue to fail” to protect players from brain injuries and concussions.

The grievance has been filed on behalf of all current and former players represented by the CFLPA.

The move comes after the Supreme Court of Canada said last Thursday that it wouldn’t hear the concussion lawsuit brought by former player Arland Bruce against the CFL and former commissioner Mark Cohon. The decision came after two lower level B.C. courts dismissed the suit, saying the Supreme Court previously ruled unionized employees must use labour arbitration and not the courts to resolve disputes that arise from their collective agreement.

The grievance was issued via letter to Stephen Shamie, the CFL’s legal counsel and managing partner at Hicks Morley in Toronto. In it, the union argues that the league failed to warn the players of the “risks and dangers” of injuries, implement rules and procedures to protect players and ensure that players have been fully rehabilitated from injuries suffered on the field.

“The Respondents knew or ought to have known that their failure to protect… [and] inform the players has resulted and would result in serious long-term injury to the players,” the letter from CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay reads. “The respondents have been negligent in their treatment of players… [and] have encouraged and required players to play in such a manner that results in injury.”

The CFLPA is asking the arbitrator to “fully compensate” injured players, implement policies and rule changes to reduce injury and seek coverage under provincial workers’ compensation plans.

Bruce played 14 seasons in the CFL (2001-2014) with Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, B.C. and Montreal, winning Grey Cups with the Argonauts (2004) and Lions (2011). Bruce filed his lawsuit in 2014.

In court documents, Bruce says he sustained “permanent and disabling” repetitive head trauma as a player and continues to suffer post-concussive symptoms, including depression, paranoia, delusions and other medical issues.

The grievance procedure outlined in the collective bargaining agreement between the league and union gives the CFL 20 days to respond to the grievance.

The league issued a statement Wednesday afternoon.

“We are in receipt of a grievance from the Canadian Football League Players Association on the issue of concussions. We will respond to it in detail within the grievance process and not in the media,” it read. “We will continue to make player health and safety a top priority for our players. And we will continue to seek to work with the CFLPA on important player health and safety initiatives.

The full text of the CFLPA letter:

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
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Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1494 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

45 Comments on CFLPA files grievance against league over concussions

  1. “Supreme Court previously ruled unionized employees must use labour arbitration and not the courts to resolve disputes that arise from their collective agreement”
    This should be interesting if it goes to arbitration.
    If the courts can not solve disputes then the CFL can simply ignore the demands and they have no legal authority to give any compensation.
    The only recourse by the players would be a strike which would hurt the players more than the owners.

    • U gotsta B kiddin // March 21, 2018 at 8:44 pm //

      I want to sue CNR and CPR for not protecting me better when I had to walk across their tracks everyday on my way to school. They didn’t teach me that when I trip and fall on my head I’m going to have problems. Had I known that I would have walked an extra block and used the sidewalk.
      Here’s an idea football players. If you are concerned that your going to possibly get concussions from helmet to helmet hits. Or coming down on your back and smacking the back of your helmet on the turf.
      DONT PLAY FOOTBALL!

  2. Such horse crap. I’m tired of players trying to get money on the back end of careers using concussions. Everyone is still learning about them and various leagues should not be solely responsible for educating their athletes. These types of thing do nothing but lower my respect for the players

  3. The league should realize that there is a problem with concussions in this sport and work with the CFLPA and others to reduce the number of concussions as much as possible

  4. Last I saw, its the players who deliver the head to head hits not the league.

    Also there is a warning in each and every helmet that warns about using the helmet to make contact and that it can cause injury to others and themselves.

  5. Ned Flanders // March 21, 2018 at 9:22 am //

    Maybe we need to change the league to flag football
    Lol. Why are these players not suing their high schools colleges and their parents for allowing them to play the game. They could have not played at all

  6. This doesn’t seem like the most positive way forward to me. I think the league has kept up to the evolving standards. I really don’t see any negligence. I think more research is needed, and maybe more crossover research and application of the emerging science. There is a lot of new science these days about the plasticity of the brain and the healing ability of the brain. There are probably things you should and shouldn’t do w.r.t. brain health and healing during and after your career.

    • Well said. Plus the fact that not every concussion is necessarily received from playing in the CFL. They played ball long before they came to the CFL. There are also studies to prove the concussions can be received in many different ways, such as falling in the playground. Not sure what the CFLPA is trying to do with this grievance. It almost sounds like they’re trying to blame every illness and ailment that the current and past players have on concussions that may or may not have been incurred when playing for the CFL. This will be very hard to prove and I think it will just make the lawyers richer. The CFLPA should be working with the league to make improvements as additional research comes to light.

  7. Here we go….

  8. I will say this … while the CFLPA has done little to convince anyone that they have been remotely competent, they have finally hired outstanding counsel. Art Vertlieb is on of the best two or three civil litigators in BC and within the top 10 in Canada. And, his son, is a well known player agent who knows the business of the CFL inside out.

    As for those comments above attempting to absolve the CFL of its responsibility, give your head a shake. The CFL has done everything it its power to avoid doing the right thing by injured players for decades. They may not be worse than other pro leagues in this regard, but they have no interest in doing right, no interest in past players who no longer provide value, and no interest in the long term health of their talent. They have had a willing co-conspirator for years in the CFLPA … the only thing that has changed is that the CFLPA is finally lifting a finger to try and change the dynamic.

  9. The only thing I’ll say about this is have you noticed how easily helmets come off? How players put them on & take them off like baseball caps. My guess is for comfort sake players don’t inflate the helmets properly. That they are loose wearing j don’t offer the proper protection when worn this way. Those helmets should be a lot tighter. I think a lot of the blame should be on the players sacrifice their own safety for comfort & style.

    • Footballnut // March 21, 2018 at 12:01 pm //

      I agree. Seems fishy . Bruce is a deadbeat dad with kids in van I believe . Read a piece on Andrew Stewart and how he is down on his luck. That guy tried to pick a fight w me and 2 buddies 1 night in van back in ‘98 I believe at the rich. Totally unprovoked the guy was huge . Fortunately 1 friend of mine played in the cfl at the time and soothed things over but the guy was nuts and it was very obvious. What came first the head injuries or the erratic behaviour ? I know concussions can be awful and cte but so much research needs to be done still. I also know that there is some speculation that drug use might contribute . Then I read a story about a New York yankeee clearing his symptoms by guzzling 4 litres of water! Wtf???!!!!

    • Robert Shmigelsky // March 21, 2018 at 1:28 pm //

      They need to get rid of the helmets, that’s what they need to do. Helmets only protect the skull. The head still bounces inside.

      If the league wants to protect itself it either has to admit that there IS a link between brain damage and football and have the player sign a waiver or simply take the head out of the game. Football only evolved the way it is because people thought the helmet would protect the player from the devastating hits they take.

  10. This will lead in time Closure Of The Canadian Football League.Knuckle Heads!!

  11. What fund has the CFLPA set-up to help old injured members? This cannot just be about the league’s part. Like Hockey, Football players today earn more money because of those that went before them, yet today’s players do not contribute toward those retirees.

    • You’re comparing apples to snowmobiles, my friend. NHL salaries have skyrocketed exponentially. CFL salaries have “increased” by $10k or $15k.

      WTF are these washed out players expecting – – a million dollar handout for each one of them?

      Sorry about your luck, but pissing away your salary while playing and not having a post retirement game plan in place does not entitle you to a six or seven figure hand out now that you’re broke.

  12. Why stop at concussions? The players looking for handouts because they’re broke should also file a grievance for knee injuries too. They can’t work because their knees are sore. And they’re depressed because they can’t run around in the neighbourhood park with sore knees.

    Guys like Bruce should have managed their finances better when they were taking in six figure salaries for a few months if work. Once the gravy train shuts off and there’s no more cheques rolling in, everyone starts to panic and get desperate.

    Too late for guys like Bruce who’s careers are finished, but young players just starting out should learn from the foolishness of the spendthrifts who preceded them.

  13. Why are all the other professional leagues covered by workers compensation or equivalent? NFL, NHL,MBA, and NBA are covered but not CFL. Strange eh?

    • These guys are not employees, they are contractors, that’s how they get those low taxed bonus, all they have to do is purchase insurance. Why don’t they?

  14. I find these lawsuits disgusting. Players know they put themselves at risk playing a violent collision sport. It is like a race car driver suing his series because he got hurt.

    They will just end up killing the game for the next generation of players.

    My old man farmed all his life, had knees replaced, he didn’t sue a potato….

  15. Here’s an example of one of the new treatments that are emerging:

    usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2017/10/03/california-clinic-provides-hope-athletes-brain-injuries-athletes-seek-answers-degenerative-brain-dis/700399001/

    It’s very early days for this kind of thing, so there are likely to be more and better treatments coming, but as Grnrider said I think it would be better if the CFLPA and the league got together to further this kind of research and treatment, especially as it applies to football injuries. Maybe team up with a Canadian university and fund some research, or maybe to analyze this program with the intention of adapting it specifically for football injuries. Or hire someone to do a lit. review and develop a knowledge center that’s up on all the latest advances, and make it available to current and former players. I think there are lots of forward looking and constructive possibilities.

  16. Failed to protect… You can only laugh at a union that has fought EVERY disciplinary action attempted by the league to protect players.

  17. Antlerman // March 21, 2018 at 2:40 pm //

    Do Cfl teams have Workers Compensation for their players?

    • They are not employees. They are contractors. It is their own responsability to purchase insurance.

      • Sixbeamers // March 21, 2018 at 4:00 pm //

        The Supreme Court of Canada, provincial court and Supreme Court of B.C. have declared that CFL players with a grievance against the league must seek redress through the arbitration process, not through the courts. Thus, these players, the courts have declared, fall under a collective bargaining agreement and are not individual “contractors” as Cookie states above. They’re employees who should receive the same protection as any worker who suffers a work-related injury or illness.

      • Simply not true Putin

  18. I wonder if it will come up in arbitration that every time the CFL has tried to discipline a player who was a danger to others by his reckless play, the CFLPA stood up, defended the player and had the suspension overturned. After enough of these, the CFL stopped trying to suspend players. The CFLPA is a huge part of the problem.

    I’d be curious as to what the CFLPA would like the league to be doing now to further prevent concussions. I have heard that they would like a neutral doctor on the sidelines to assess injuries and not a team doctor. I think that has merit, but the CFL would not do it in the last collective agreement. I wonder what else?

  19. fannotacoach // March 21, 2018 at 3:09 pm //

    I checked out the site noted by RFD and it does look promising. I have to agree with some above that legal action is kind of ridiculous. While it is sad that players are suffering from injuries in a sport that I enjoy watching so much I at the same time have to think the player has to take some responsibility for participating in something as violent as football and expecting others to compensate him. Unfortunately I also think that too many of these players may have been blessed with physical attributes that enable them to play at a high level but not the ability to get an education that gives them a fall back when their game is over. There should be some mandatory wage deductions that go towards their post playing days if there isn’t already.

    • Every profession has risks.They are well known in every profession.

      Cops risk being shot, infected, killed in crash
      Truck drivers lose their back
      Farmers get arthritis, lime disease
      Aircraft technicians work with carcinegenes
      Factory workers can get crushed of injured.
      Soldiers can be shot.

      All those have one thing in common. They make less money than a CFL career starter.

      Brain injuries and chronic pains risks have been known in football for at least 50 years.

  20. CFL family // March 21, 2018 at 4:20 pm //

    Is say this issue goes beyond the CFL. There needs to be universal standards on dealing with this stuff.
    Does anyone remember the Calgary, Edmonton labour day rematch this past year? Reilly took a head shot. Do you think he was going to sit on the sideline the rest if the game? No way! Once he was given clearance he was going out, he was in no way worried about his health. Point being both players and teams are complicit.
    It’s bad form for the CFLPA to create this conflict a year away from the end of the deal, the next negotiations will be contentious enough as is. There are no winners in the CFL world in a deadlock situation

  21. I wonder if the family of the acrobat that died at Cirque last week will sue the Circus because their loved one DIED?

    I’m sure he made less than a CFL’er

    • Sixbeamers // March 21, 2018 at 5:13 pm //

      Putin: The manufacturer of the rigging equipment involved in the death of pro wrestler Owen Hart paid $9 million to World Wrestling Entertainment to settle a wrongful death lawsuit initiated by the family following his fall at Kemper Arena (1999). Likewise, performers and employees with Cirque du Soleil have also sued the company for injuries and disabilities incurred in the performance of their job. When a 1000-pound prop fell on electrician Mark Brown — he lost 25 percent of his skull and was paralyzed from the waist down — he later sued Cirque du Soleil but settled for an unknown amount. The jury was about to award him $41.6 million.

      Lewmar, which makes the harness whose premature release caused Hart to fall more than 75 feet, acknowledged no wrongdoing in the case.

      • CFL family // March 21, 2018 at 5:41 pm //

        I think we are comparing Apple’s to oranges. There is no issue with faulty equipment in the case of the CFL. .. I can tell you if the CFL was forced to pay out 40 million it would cause some financial strain one way or another.

        • Sixbeamers // March 21, 2018 at 6:16 pm //

          I agree with you, CFL Family. No one has an issue with faulty equipment in the CFL (although, it can be argued, a “concussion-free” helmet has yet to be invented). I’m just making the point (to Putin) that death or permanent impairment (in the case of the WWE and Cirque du Soleil) in the course of one’s job can result in legal action. Just because the employment is risky, doesn’t absolve the employer of consequences when something goes wrong. If a CFL player’s work/career results in a permanent disability (or premature death, as in the case of CTE), the league is no different than any other profit-making enterprise. They can be open to legal action. This is why the CFL pays for liability insurance — in the event an individual or a group (class action) seeks compensation for a debilitating and permanent injury.

      • Those were “wrongful” the acrobat who’s hand slipped was a risk of his profession.

  22. What’s worse is they could have negotiated with the league. Instead they took 3 cracks at the courts and now are back at square one. While Society picks up the bill for the three failed lawsuits.

    • Sixbeamers // March 21, 2018 at 7:31 pm //

      Cookie: The CFLPA didn’t take three cracks at the CFL in court — Arland Bruce did. He and his lawyer argued that an individual should be allowed to sue his employer in open court for compensation for a permanent injury or debilitating condition. The courts ruled otherwise. Their judgment is that Bruce must seek redress through the arbitration process set down in the collective bargaining agreement. This was a fight over legal interpretation. Bruce must now go through an arbitrator.
      The CFLPA grievance is a separate action, although it will, of course, affect Bruce and current or retired players who maintain the league didn’t do enough to protect them.

    • How about the fact that “society” is picking up all the medical bills for these long term injuries!

      • Sixbeamers // March 22, 2018 at 2:02 pm //

        Hassy: Society is NOT picking up the medical bills for long-term injuries in the CFL. That’s the whole point of the players’ argument with the league. Insurance covers a player for the first year. After that, they’re on their own — for living expenses, rehab, medications or mobility aids. Teams have no obligation to a player’s health and welfare beyond the first 12 months. And American-born players aren’t eligible for provincial health plans.
        In fact, no professional athlete is eligible for workers’ health benefits in any province. It’s the same situation whether it’s the CFL, the National Hockey League or any other pro sport.

  23. Hey Sixbeamers: In fact Canadian players who are injured access our medical system(surgerys etc.) even in the first twelve months and last time I checkedour medicare system is paid for solely through our taxes. In the U.S. the bargained insurance plan pays for the players doctor, surgical and hospital bills for the first year.
    All other professional Canadian athletes NHL, MBA,and MLB are covered by an equivalent of Workers Compensation for both treatment and wage loss as a result of injuries playing their respective sport because their US counterparts are in fact covered by state WCB regulations which is paid for through assessments based on the particular employers accident and claims history.
    In Canada when a someone is injured at work all of their medical bills are paid by the provincial WCB…and not our medicare system because the taxpayer should not be responsible for an obligation of a private business.

    • Sixbeamers // March 22, 2018 at 7:38 pm //

      Hassy: “The CFLPA last year kicked off its One Play Away awareness campaign to highlight the medical benefits issue, noting among other things that professional athletes were ineligible for workers’ compensation coverage in Canada.” — Ottawa Citizen, Sept. 17, 2017.

  24. Sixbeamer: That is correct. The NHL,MBA,and MLB teams in Canada have WCB “equivalent” coverage as I said above. It is negotiated to give the Canadian players equivalent coverage to the US teams who are covered by state WCB systems.
    More to the point of my initial reply to you however, is you say nothing to the fact that we pay for all football related injuries for Canadian CFL players for the rest of their lives. Does that seem fair or reasonable to you?

    • Sixbeamers // March 22, 2018 at 8:31 pm //

      Hassy: That’s the issue the CFLPA is grieving. The CFL has no obligation to a player after the 12-month period of injury or disability. It’s incumbent upon the employer — not the taxpayer — to look after a player who sustains a long-term injury that may affect his future livelihood. So the CFLPA is seeking the same workplace injury coverage that applies to other industries. It believes the long-term health of players is as important (or more important) than the short-term considerations. But the league isn’t eager to oblige, knowing that longer-term disability coverage results in higher premiums to the employer. This will be a contentious issue in the next round of union-employer bargaining in 2019.

    • Sixbeamers // March 22, 2018 at 8:55 pm //

      Hassy: Here’s the case of former Ottawa running back Jonathan Williams, a North Carolina native who shredded his knee in his first season with the CFL team.
      Williams was released and returned to Carolina as damaged goods, his football career finished.
      He discovered there was no safety net waiting to catch him in either the U.S. or Canada.
      By law, CFL players don’t qualify for workers’ compensation benefits if they’re hurt on the job. They also aren’t entitled to long-term disability payments.
      As an American player back home in the U.S., Williams wasn’t eligible for Canadian health care and in a cruel twist, he was told he wasn’t eligible for American health care and disability either because his injury happened outside the U.S.
      Doesn’t the CFL bear a greater responsibility to players such as Williams, just one of scores of broken men in similar situations?

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