Davis: CFL teams should pay salaries of drug-suspended players

It’s time for CFL teams to take some responsibility for any of their players testing positive for using performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s time to make them pay the salaries of their drug-suspended players.

Saskatchewan Roughriders tailback/returner Marcus Thigpen will have to surrender two games’ pay after he was assessed a two-game suspension because he tested positive in November for using a banned, anabolic steroid. His positive test was revealed by the CFL two months after offensive lineman Bruce Campbell, Thigpen’s teammate, received a two-game suspension for using a different steroid.

Thigpen was likely going to be a key member of Saskatchewan’s offence this season. Campbell is a free agent who could re-sign with Saskatchewan or join any CFL team. Both players were with the Roughriders last season when they were caught using PEDs, but the current rules allow the team to take virtually no responsibility and suffer no punishments. All the Roughriders have done is issue statements saying they’re disappointed in their players.

That’s not right. With two verified cheaters in their lineup, the Roughriders advanced within one game of qualifying for the 2018 Grey Cup.

We’re not saying the Roughriders were complicit in the cheating; there’s no way a CFL team would advocate or provide PEDs for its players. But the team should be responsible for ensuring its players follow the rules, knowing that a first positive test incurs a two-game suspension, a second gets nine games, a third gets a full season and a fourth earns a lifetime ban. The CFL doesn’t test for recreational drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine, choosing instead to focus on drugs that give athletes an unfair advantage.

Campbell and Thigpen hadn’t been playing pro football before joining the Roughriders last season. Upon their arrival in Saskatchewan, the Roughriders needed to conduct a thorough de-briefing: How did the players train? Did they use PEDs? Can we do a blood test?

It’s not just the Roughriders. Every team has to be responsible for educating its players about the rules, the well-documented dangers of using PEDs and the reasons why they’re illegal. PEDs, such as steroids and human growth hormones, help athletes get stronger and faster. It was remarkable last season that Campbell and Thigpen were able to ultimately earn starter’s roles with the Roughriders. Now we know how that happened.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s say Campbell and Thigpen earned annual salaries of $90,000 in 2017; that’s $5,000 for each of their team’s 18 games. Regardless of whether Thigpen and/or Campbell play this season and forfeit paycheques during their respective two-game suspensions, the Roughriders should be forced to pay $20,000 in salaries. Give the money to the CFL Alumni Association, maybe designate it for the CFLAA’s Dire Needs Fund, or donate it to local charities. And don’t say CFL teams can’t afford it — every game there are players stashed on injury lists who are receiving full salaries even though they’re not really injured.

Punishment should be the same for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats when receiver Mike Jones was suspended two games last year, or when the Calgary Stampeders lost returner Roy Finch for a two-game suspension. Make those teams pay the salaries of Jones and Finch during their suspensions.

This isn’t a new idea: Sports Illustrated suggested years ago that pro teams continue paying their suspended players so the franchises would make more concerted efforts to educate and control their players. Of course no team owners would set up a system that punishes them for someone else’s transgressions, even if it’s the right thing to do.

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.