CFL lacks transparency, accountability in Cummings case

There’s little doubt that the CFL did the right thing in voiding the contract of former B.C. Lions defensive lineman Euclid Cummings this week after learning that he was facing serious criminal charges, including sexual assault.

The question is what took them so long to get him out of the league?

The timeline of Cummings’ legal troubles raises some serious concerns surrounding the league’s diligence in monitoring the occasionally troubling behaviour of its players. For a league that has repeatedly portrayed itself as forward-thinking and progressive on issues of domestic and sexual violence, the fact that a player facing criminal charges of this magnitude suited up for an entire season is a significant concern.

Cummings has been charged with four criminal counts stemming from incidents in Vancouver that allegedly occurred on Oct. 16, 2016. His team at the time, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers played a regular season game at B.C. Place on Oct. 14 and had a bye the following week, which would explain why Cummings was still in the city two days after an away game.

The Bombers say they were informed of the ongoing investigation by Vancouver Police the following month and passed that information onto the league. If that’s accurate – and the CFL has not refuted the team’s version of events – then the league was aware of a potential issue involving Cummings some 18 months ago.

Cummings, having left the Bombers and signed with the Edmonton Eskimos in February of 2017, was charged the following April with sexual assault, assault and uttering threats. Those charges were never made public by the Vancouver Police, as sometimes happens in cases with a public interest, or reported by local media. He is set to go to trial in October.

Both the Eskimos and Lions are adamant that they knew nothing about the criminal investigation or charges and Ed Hervey, the general manager of both clubs at the time that Cummings signed, has also denied any wrongdoing.

Still, the question remains: if the league was aware of a criminal investigation regarding one of its players as earlier as November 2016, why didn’t they follow up with Vancouver police or the Crown Attorney’s office regarding the outcome?

Had the CFL followed up with the case, at the very minimum they could have subjected Cummings to the league’s domestic and sexual violence policy. Instead, Cummings was able to play an entire season while facing serious criminal charges, including sexual assault, which is incongruous with what’s happened in other recent cases.

Former Saskatchewan Roughrider Justin Cox was barred from the CFL by former commissioner Jeffery Orridge after being charged with domestic violence and kept out of the league following his acquittal. His replacement, Randy Ambrosie, prevented quarterback Johnny Manziel, whose domestic violence charge was ultimately dismissed after a plea deal that included counselling, from entering the CFL last fall until he met certain unspecified conditions. Ambrosie made it clear after the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hired Art Briles that the former Baylor coach, who was forced to resign amid a sexual assault scandal at the school, was not welcome in the league.

And yet Euclid Cummings played entire season facing serious criminal charges that the league, with one phone call, would have known about.

The CFL’s response to the Cummings controversy has left plenty to be desired as well. After issuing their initial statement on their decision to void the contract – which did not include any details on how that was even possible – the league has stonewalled all media inquiries for clarification on why Cummings was allowed to play last season (and it’s not just 3Down, they’re not responding to anyone.)

Even straightforward football questions surrounding the status of Cummings’ signing bonus and salary cap implications, as insignificant as they may be in light of the other serious issues at play, remain unanswered.

The league, the teams and the CFLPA have used the fact that the Cummings’ case is ongoing as justification to avoid comment while also using the publication ban, which covers the names of the alleged victims, as a similar shield. Neither of these things prevent the CFL, the teams or the CFLPA from addressing the issues surrounding Cummings’ contract or his status a with the league. It certainly doesn’t prevent the CFL from explaining what went wrong.

This is becoming a pattern. The CFL did not fully explain its vetting process for Manziel which, it emerged later, did not include any attempt to reach out to his domestic violence victim. Nor did it clarify how Briles was allowed to be hired in the first place or what’s being done to prevent a similar situation in the future. Ambrosie wants us to have faith the league is doing the right things as opposed to clearly demonstrating it.

Ambrosie just finished a cross-country tour of all nine CFL cities that featured lots of talk about the importance of transparency and I believe the league is genuinely trying to deal with issues of domestic and sexual violence in a proactive way. But by failing to address important questions that surround the Cummings case, the CFL threatens to undermine its credibility on both these fronts.