Riders (and their fans) can’t ignore the fight and what it means

Pretend nothing happened.

That’s usually the modus operandi for a professional football team when something happens. But it’s difficult to plead ignorance when your self-centred, star receiver — in this case, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ Duron Carter — tells the world through social media he might be leaving the CFL team following a little-noticed, in-practice, knuckle-chucking fight with a teammate.

Cue the finger-pointing and fear among the CFL’s most rabid fanbase. It was sparked by media reports that Carter and practice-roster linebacker Sam Williams, a rookie who didn’t attend the next day’s practice, were encouraged to fight by an unnamed coach and thwarted by veteran receiver Bakari Grant. Initial reports, quickly denied by the Roughriders, indicated the players involved had been suspended or released.

Following a practice that had beforehand been closed to media and fans, it was obvious Carter and his teammates had been told to be careful in interviews regarding the previous day’s events.

Grant said absolutely nothing. That goes against Carter’s nature — following Saskatchewan’s crushing 33-32 loss Friday against the Ottawa Redblacks, who scored 12 points in the final three minutes, he was gushing about catching 11 passes for 231 yards and surpassing 1,000 yards for the first time in his four CFL seasons. Wait a minute, didn’t the team just lose? Exactly one year after being released by the Montreal Alouettes for fighting with teammates while with the Montreal Alouettes, Carter did confess he didn’t know if he was going to play in Friday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders.

So . . . will anyone be disciplined, cut, suspended, benched or fined? Roughriders boss Chris Jones told the media he wouldn’t disclose any discipline, provide any details or worry about a run-of-the-mill “football” altercation. Jones said players have regularly fought on every team he has coached, yet some of those teams have won championships. He wants players who are willing to fight for something.

True enough. But most football fights occur during training camp. Fights occur less frequently late in the regular season, particularly when a team has rebounded from a slow start to become a contender, like the Roughriders, with their 8-7 record and needing one victory to qualify for the playoffs.

Something disruptive happened. Indeed. The Roughriders and their fans can downplay it as much as they want, it’s something the team, the players and the coaches have to deal with. Carter has to be a good teammate, not just a supremely talented individual, respected by all the coaches and the defensive players. Since the incident, cornerback Jovon Johnson, a defensive captain, has been fairly forthcoming with his descriptions and his support for Carter. That’s a good sign.

Pretending nothing happened, or that nothing has to be dealt with, might shield the truth from the fans and media, but locking it inside the locker room makes it fester. If it isn’t treated properly, it becomes infected. And this isn’t a good time of the season for that to happen to the Roughriders.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.