Player safety? CFL must suspend Kyries Hebert after the latest in a series of dirty hits

Ottawa Redblacks’ Kyries Hebert, right, slams into Calgary Stampeders’ DaVaris Daniels, during second half CFL football action in Calgary, Thursday, June 28, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

While the CFL continues to pay plenty of lip service to the “importance of player safety” it missed a golden opportunity to actually try and change player behaviour – and take a stand against a repeat offender – in Thursday night’s Calgary Stampeders win over the Ottawa Redblacks.

The play happened in the late stages of the third quarter and the game tied at seven. Calgary receiver DaVaris Daniels went over the middle to catch a pass from Bo Levi Mitchell and was levelled by Ottawa linebacker Kyries Hebert. The photo above is pretty damning – Hebert leading with the crown of his helmet, his elbow extended in an effort to make contact with Daniels’ head – but the moving pictures is pretty bad, too:

Whether TSN should be using this clip at all is debatable in itself but there’s no question they asked the wrong question. It should have been: “Why wasn’t Kyries Hebert kicked out of the goddamn game?”

Hebert was flagged for unnecessary roughness and received a 15-yard penalty, likely under Section 2, Article 3, Paragraph (f) which forbids: “Using the helmet as the initial or primary point of contact to butt, ram, spear, or deliver a blow to an opponent who is in a vulnerable position, including but not limited to, a passer, a receiver in the act of catching a pass…”

But it was, quite literally, the least that the officiating crew led by referee Tim Kroeker could have done. And there other options available. Article 2 of the same section says: “A player shall be penalized and subject to disqualification for any act of rough play against an opponent, including but not limited to… (c) any other act of excessive roughness considered by the Referee to warrant disqualification.”

In other words, Kroeker was well within his rights to throw Hebert out on his ass.

Coaches, players and fans around the league swiftly condemned the hit. “That was an easy throw-out,” Calgary head coach Dave Dickenson told the assembled media afterwards. “It’s the league talking about player safety and they should have thrown him out. End of the line.”

Harris is right: this is hardly Hebert’s first dirty hit. He was fined the maximum allowable (which amounts to half his game cheque) last August after a very similar hit on then-Argos quarterback Cody Fajardo. He was ejected and received the maximum fine for a headshot on Calgary’s Jon Cornish that left the Calgary running back with a concussion in 2014. He has a well-earned reputation as the dirtiest player in the CFL.

The NFL and the NCAA are already ahead of the CFL on this. U.S. college football has had a “targetting rule” for 10 seasons and added ejections to the possible penalties in 2013. This spring, the NFL radically changed its “Use of Helmet” rule and included ejections as a consequence. The CFL used to consider itself an innovator in the game and a leader in player safety initiatives. As other North American leagues make multiple changes to everything from kickoffs to headshots, the CFL can hardly make that argument now.

While Kroeker and his crew failed to do the right thing on Thursday – and by the way, wouldn’t this be a terrific use of the otherwise fairly useless video official – the CFL can still send something of a message by suspending Hebert for at least a game for his latest transgression. The CBA gives the commissioner fairly wide, if vague, latitude on suspensions, though it will likely be grieved and begin the CFL-CFLPA’s interminable arbitration process. But it has to be done: he’s a repeat offender and fines clearly haven’t worked. If commissioner Randy Ambrosie is as serious about player safety as he says he is, well, now’s his chance to prove it.

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