While former player Randy Ambrosie was being introduced as the commissioner of the CFL, the current players had their focus on the new league boss.
The CFLPA and group of athletes in the membership hope that with Ambrosie’s background from lining up between the white lines it means he’ll better understand the top concerns. Player safety is a hot button topic in football and how the players are being rehabilitated, or lack there of, is important too. Above all else, collective bargaining discussions are on the horizon – the existing agreement runs out in May 2019 – and labour harmony is crucial for each side, league and players.
Ambrosie, the 54-year-old, played nine seasons with the Stampeders, Argonauts and Eskimos combined, winning a Grey Cup championship while an Eskimo in 1993.
Brian Ramsay, the CFLPA’s executive director, played 10 seasons with the Argos, Ticats and Eskimos combined, winning a Grey Cup championship while an Eskimo in 2015.
Similar player bios for two men who will play integral roles in working to make the game safer and better for the present day players.
“The hope from a players point of view is that a former player in the commissioner role would be attuned to the major issues that we’re talking about right now, and would be attuned to them very quickly having experienced some himself as a player,” Ramsay said.
“One of the qualities that I will like to bring to the job everyday is that I understand what it’s like to be a player, I know how tough it is to play this game, I know that getting up after game day when you can barely move and literally everything hurts is going to help me have a relationship with the players,” Ambrosie said after being introduced as the first former player to be named commissioner since Larry Smith who held the position from 1992-1997.
Over the last 12-16 months the CFLPA has been continuing to evolve as the game does. It’s not a slight in any means to the way it was done before it’s just natural as the game itself progresses and changes. The executives want to be able to support the membership in the best way possible.
“When you look at what we’ve really highlighted in the last year, it’s the health, safety and the changes that we need to make in the game,” Ramsay said.
Back in February, the league held medical meetings in Ottawa, which the CFLPA attended for the first time – important to have the players represented.
“Being able to voice the players’ opinions in those meetings and having that ability to communicate with everyone in the room is extremely efficient and valuable to what we’re trying to accomplish: provide the safest working environment for the membership and the goals we’re trying to obtain on behalf membership,” Ramsay said.
“I was happy to learn that there is an annual medical conference that the league has undertaken where all the doctors are coming together along with the team trainers to really talk about injuries,” Ambrosie said.
Ultimately, everyone league-wide needs to be involved and aware of safety measures and protocols. Injuries are going to occur in a contact-collision sport like football, but those physical setbacks need to be limited as much as possible by taking the appropriate measures. Part of that equation is protecting players from themselves.
“They don’t want to come out of the games, they really don’t,” Ambrosie said.
“It’s hard to explain, but they just don’t want to let their teammates down, they don’t want to leave the field – they are so passionate and so committed. We have to find a way to have our players help themselves a little bit more because ultimately you’re the one who is lying on the field, you’re the one who knows the difference between being hurt and having an injury.”
On top of that, injuries need to be dealt with properly when it comes to rehabilitation. Firsthand, Ramsay knows what coming back from an injury can be like.
“I can tell you from experience a season-ender is a scary proposition when it puts into jeopardy your career and the way that you earn an income for your family and yourself,” the 37-year-old, who suffered a torn ACL in 2009, said
Ramsay believes adequate rehabilitation coverage needs to be improved for the players. Under the current CBA, players are covered for 12 months from the date of the injury.
“I’ve seen some of our guys go down with some pretty scary season-ending injuries,” Ramsay said.
“That risk is there. We’re in real time.”
Ambrosie knows one of the main draws to football for fans is the fact that it’s a collision sport, played at high speeds by very large men.
“That comes with its issues. You have to be studious and pursue the experts. Talking to the governors there is a real effort to stay at the leading edge of the issue, constantly informing ourselves,” the commissioner said.
Attention like that from the head man at the CFL office provides optimism for the players that mutual goals can be reached: make the game safer and stronger for all involved. Ultra important because the players are a driving force in the league.
“These aren’t normal athletes, these aren’t regular people, these are super human athletes, world class athletes,” Ambrosie said.
“The players are the biggest commodity in the league,” Ramsay said. “Watching the great fan bases around the CFL who come watch these guys play football, our hope is that the commissioner – and his experience – will be a great advocate for players across the league.”
Ambrosie wants to be a players’ commissioner, like a players’ coach.
“I want to celebrate the players,” Ambrosie said. “When the players see me coming I want them to say: ‘That’s our guy. That’s the guy who loves us and loves our game.’”