CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie gave his annual state of league address on Friday and after starting with some lame jokes – my wife says I need to “man up” and face the media – Ambrosie addressed a number of important issues facing the CFL.
1. He referred to the collective bargaining agreement with players as “the great unknown” but expressed optimism they’d get a deal done.
“Look, I think there is a great attitude. We’ve done some really great work with the players over the past number of years,” he said. “I think the future is better together. I’m optimistic, I really am. I think we can sit down with the players shortly after the season and lay out a path to put in place a deal that’s fair for both sides. I’m absolutely confident that we’re going to get to a solution and get back to playing football at the start of the 2019 season.”
2. He says that player injuries are somehow a collective bargaining issue.
Ambrosie was asked about the fact that players’ medical costs are only covered for a year after their injury, no matter how long they are impacted. This issue came to the forefront because former CFLer Jonathon Hefney is still dealing with the after effects of an injury he suffered in 2015 but gets no help from his former team, the Alouettes, or the league. He’s used a GoFundMe campaign to cover medical expenses.
The question, from the Winnipeg Free Press’ Jeff Hamilton: “Why do you think it’s not the league’s responsibility to cover injuries that happened on their playing field?”
Ambrosie’s answer: “I don’t have a perfect answer. I think we will sit down and talk about this with the players and I hope that together we’ll find a solution that everyone will agree to.”
3. The CFL found evidence that “something terrible has happened” in the cases of Jerome Messam and Teague Sherman, who have been barred from the league after being charged with criminal offences involving alleged abuse against women.
Last July, Messam was charged with voyeurism while Sherman was charged with two counts of sexual assault. Both cases are still ongoing.
“There’s a distinction between the burden of evidence that an employer has versus what the criminal courts do. In every case, when we were in possession of information that makes it absolutely clear that something terrible has happened and is absolutely in contravention of our philosophy and policy on violence against women, we’re compelled to act,” Ambrosie said. “In both of these cases, when you’re in possession of information and you see what you see, you can’t unsee it. The responsibility is bigger than just the Canadian Football League. It’s all about doing something good in Canada, it’s important for the CFL to be a leader.
“In the cases you’re describing, we were in possession of information that made it clear what our duty was and our responsibility was to take action like we did.”
4. He framed the concussion issue as a wider societal concern while pointing to all kinds of factors – other than football – involved in concussion management.
“This isn’t a football issue, this is a sports issue,” he said. “There are four million concussions in North America every year and the vast majority happen when people fall. This is not just a sports issue then but it’s an issue for medicine and for society.”
He said he attended a conference in London this year with representatives from leagues across the globe as well as medical professionals.
“There are modifiers and there may be a link between mental health and concussion recovery. They think that if you have a learning disability it takes you longer to recover from a concussion. That if you’re suffering from depression or anxiety that it may take you longer to recover from a concussion. That’s very important to know,” he said. “It means that not only are we going to have to address the physical health of our players but we’re going to have to start addressing the mental health of our players as well.
“The work continues. We have to follow the science. We have these amazing doctors.”
He also said the league is trying to resolve the lawsuit filed by former players.
“We are in discussions with the plaintiffs in this class action suit. In the case of the NHL and the NFL, that process took time to reach the outcome,” he said. “We would like to reach a successful conclusion and we’re going to work at that. None of us, not the players or ourselves, want this thing lingering in perpetuity.”
5. The season will be moving up a week, starting next year.
“In our quest for 2020 Grey Cup bids, we’ve asked the teams to bid one week earlier then they have in the past. And so the move is afoot,” he said.
6. The league plans to raise the issue of how Canadian quarterbacks are classified on the roster as part of CBA negotiations.
“That’s going to have to be discussed when we meet with the players. There’s no doubt from a fans perspective, they want to see that rule changed. We’ll definitely put that on the table and talk about that with the players,” he said.
7. There were a couple of questions about the football operations salary cap, which the existence of which the league has yet to announce publicly.
“I’m not entirely sure why this confusion but if there is then we have to fix that. That’s on us,” Ambrosie said. “We’ve left lots of room to make sure that we have great people coach our teams and to run our football operations.”
There was also a question about cuts to training and medical staff because of the new cap but Ambrosie say there are separate.
Again, if the CFL actually released the details then maybe the teams – and the fans and media – would know what the rules are.
8. Ambrosie has “concerns” about the state of affairs in Montreal.
“I have concerns… there is no doubt there are challenges there. [The Wettenhalls] would tell you that they’ve been disappointed in these last number of years,” Ambrosie said, while saying the Wettenhalls don’t plan on selling the team.
“We haven’t had that kind of conversation but I know they are concerned.”