Victor Butler: The Argonauts are holding me hostage

Editor’s note: the following is an article written by professional football player Victor Butler. 

The Toronto Argonauts are holding me hostage!!

Just months after helping the team reach a record 17th Grey Cup championship, the team is going back on its word and relentlessly denying me the chance to pursue NFL opportunities, and taking from me my God-given right as a father and husband to provide for my family.

Last February, I signed a one-year deal with the organization that included a team-held option. I made it painfully clear to the team that I was only interested in playing the 2017 season. I saw this as a great opportunity and possible chance to relaunch my NFL career where I had played 65 games over seven seasons. I was told that the Argos have a history of working with guys who have the opportunity to play down south, so if it did not pan out there was always a home for them back in Toronto.

I said: “If that’s the understanding, let’s do it.”

Shortly after joining the team, Jim Popp was hired on as general manager and Marc Trestman as the head coach. I went on to have an All-Star season, and in just one year left my mark on this league. We went on to win the Grey Cup and now there are NFL teams expressing interest in me, although there have been no formal discussions. But due to the veteran minimum (which the CFL does not have) of $900,000 USD compared to the $60,000 CDN I would be paid for next season, it’s no surprise American players want to play for their home country. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to allow me to try. The Argos know this and still they stand in the way of me and financial security for my growing family.

They know what this opportunity means to me, and players like me, yet they refuse to be supportive and stand uncompromising in their approach to dealing with American players, Popp going as far as to tell me: ” I can play for them or retire.”

That sounds like a clear threat, one I refuse to be intimidated by! I have worked way too hard, come too far, and sacrificed far too much to have this chance ripped away from me by an organization trying to oppress and stockpile American talent.

You grow up with a dream, the dream of one day playing on the same fields as the legends did. Then one day you open your eyes and you’re actually there, it’s mind-blowing, and a life-altering experience, one that very few people get to have. The fact of the matter is, very few people who set goals actually get to see them come to fruition, so to have those dreams or goals denied to you is a crime against humanity which is unacceptable.

I came up to the CFL with the misconception that these were second-tier players in a third tier league. I was completely wrong about the PLAYERS! There are a number of guys that could not only start on an NFL team but play at a Pro Bowl level. The football in the CFL is top-notch, but the same cannot be said about the league or its organizations, particularly Toronto.

Winning a professional championship is a tremendous feat especially when you take into account the conditions in which we were forced to endure to achieve it. As a player, I am shocked we didn’t have a losing season, but that speaks more to the character, heart, and resiliency of the players.

Victor Butler celebrates winning the 105th Grey Cup last November. He was named a CFL all-star in his first season as a member of the Toronto Argonauts. Photo courtesy Victor Butler.

My biggest problem is the conditions the players are put in. As a player, having no stability in our routine was very difficult. From playing musical chairs with our practice facilities, taking school buses like some high school class on a field trip to practice, and then getting there and having the fields we practised on feel like concrete.

Even after settling on a facility, it was a run down old school complete with live bats in the restroom and the threat of vandals and arsonist looming around every day. As a professional, I was shocked and appalled when we were forced to beg and plead for breakfast to be provided, and then to have those meals taken out of your already small game check. As an athlete, you have to take care of your body outside of the practice and workouts. I had to find creative ways to care for my body as an elite athlete because we are unable to afford simple maintenance, which is KEY to performing as a professional athlete. There should be a professional standard, and if that was it, then it’s no wonder why we couldn’t fill BMO stadium on a good day.

Off the field things were even tougher, trying to find a safe and secure place for you and your family to live with little to no time or help, proved to be mentally and emotionally challenging. Especially when you’re given a housing budget of $1,000 a month CDN which for those of you who stay in the greater Toronto area know is next to impossible. It is extremely difficult on an entry-level CFL salary to maintain a home not to mention transportation, groceries, renting internationally and taxes in two countries. It adds up quick and the math isn’t very pretty.

All this and you can see why my current situation isn’t ideal and a difficult one to take laying down. After all of that, the Toronto Argonauts have the audacity and nerve to ask me to submissively pass on the opportunity to make a substantial amount money, money that can put food on my children’s plates, braces on their teeth, and equip them with a college education. All things it would take me the equivalent of 23 CFL seasons to even have a hope of achieving.

And while myself and others are denied this opportunity to peruse what’s best for our families future, Marc Trestman’s name is being floated around for an NFL offensive coordinator job. Had he gotten it, he would be allowed to leave in the pursuit of financial stability and a better situation for him and his family. You would have to be a person with an IQ of 5 to not see the hypocrisy in that.

As a professional athlete our careers are limited, as a football player you can cut that in half! At 30-years-old, it’s only a matter of time before I am; too old, too broken, and too tired to do what I do. At that point will Jim Popp or the Argos start a Go Fund Me for my family? Is there a college fund with my children’s names on it somewhere? Hell, will I get health insurance after I am done? The answer is NO!

Victor Butler with his wife and daughter. The couple is expecting their second child. Photo courtesy Victor Butler.

Because to them, I am not a person, my family doesn’t matter and our happiness and well-being are the furthest thing from their mind. I am a pawn in their game, one where I am expected to shut my mouth know my role and be grateful for whatever scraps they throw me.

I refuse to be bullied into submission, I will not dance unless I hear music, nor let someone piss on my head and tell me it’s raining. As the head of my household, I have to be steadfast in the face of intimidation and injustice because I am responsible for more than myself now.

Due to the built-in disparity between what Canadian players are paid vs. American in the CFL, with nationals getting higher pay simply because they were born on the right side of the border and the scarcity of talent already puts us fighting an uphill battle. I don’t agree with this major imbalance but that’s an issue for another time. You can’t pay American players less while working to deny them the chance to make more money when the opportunity presents itself.

I am extremely disappointed and disgusted because this organization and league preach professionalism and family values yet they refuse to practice these things. I loved the teammates I played with this season, truly a special group of men, but it would be an absurd act of cruelty to let this perverted idea of the professional football dream continue to be shown to young players who only want a shot at living their dreams. At the end of the day, we as human beings just want to provide for our families and create a sense of security and happiness for them. I’m a husband and father first and I don’t just answer for myself. To not take advantage of this opportunity is irresponsible to them.

The CFL is in mortal danger of losing talent if it continues to do business this way. I’m training in Texas with guys who are considering a CFL career, and I can’t in good conscience recommend they do so. The league has to change if it is to thrive or keep heading down this dangerous road and remain trapped in obscurity while hockey, baseball, basketball, and even soccer continue eclipsing this great sport in the North. I am vexed that anyone would want to be a part of a league that preys on the dreams of young men, then holding them and their talents hostage until they submit to a position of powerlessness.

– Victor Butler is a professional football player who has seven seasons of NFL experience and won a Grey Cup championship with the Toronto Argonauts in 2017. 

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