While the CFL and commissioner Randy Ambrosie talk endlessly about improving player safety, Friday night’s game between the Ottawa Redblacks and the B.C. Lions provided another example of just how far the league still has to go.
Early in the second quarter, Lions quarterback Travis Lulay took a wicked shot from Ottawa’s J.R. Tavai, his head snapping back and he fell to the turf. Tavai leads with the crown of his helmet, which is the first thing to make contact with Lulay’s chin. Here, have a look.
Unbelievably, there was no flag on the play.
Reaction from the Lions and on social media was harsh and immediate. The game was one the vaunted “mic-upped” and, as our own Lowell Ullrich reported, Lions head coach Wally Buono wasn’t happy. From his story
“How can you miss that call?” Buono was caught by TSN as saying about the play, which did not draw a penalty and marked the start of Jon Jennings’ rehab tour. Hebert got two games presumably as a repeat offender but if the league ultimately rules in favour of the Redblacks player there surely will be a few more mothers asking if they should let their sons play football.
“We got to lobby for the video official to have more say on things of that nature because that protects the officials and integrity of the game. That’s all were asking for,” said Buono afterwards.
“Player safety has to be the number one thing.”
Pundits and fans weighed in on Twitter as well.
Just wondering how "we're making football safer," when that hit on Lulay happens without even a flag thrown on the play.
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) September 8, 2018
Got home late, but @cfl YOU CAN NOT MISS CALLS LIKE THAT HIT ON TRAVIS LULAY.
That's exactly the kind of shit you have to get out of the game.
— Gord Randall (@GARandall) September 8, 2018
Bad miss by officials. Wally was furious and Lulay’s agent was having a cow in the press box. https://t.co/3l1dEGe4YU
— Matthew Sekeres (@mattsekeres) September 8, 2018
@RandyAmbrosie come on man. The referring in the CFL is bushleague. That hit on Lulay where the guy dives headfirst into him
Headshot. NO FREAKING CALL
ANYONE WATCHING COULD SEE ITS WAS A DIRTY DANGEROUS HIT!
— ron smith (@ronnieray61) September 8, 2018
@RandyAmbrosie you need to start holding @CFLFootballOps officials accountable for missed calls and not throwing the flag like the blatant hit on Lulay. If you take player safety seriously, you will discipline their incompetence that jeopardizes players' health/career #BCLions
— Steve Johnson (@sportsgeek22) September 8, 2018
Predictably, the Twitter account designed to bring accountability to officiating was silent on the Lulay hit, both during and after the game. While the account has been great for justifying the decisions made by on-field officials and the command centre and spitting out esoteric stats, it’s been woefully short on owning up to mistakes. But that’s a rant for another day.
Ambrosie deserves some credit for implementing escalating discipline when it comes to head hits, particularly if your name is Kyries Hebert. But punishing players and their teams in-game is another effective way to deter behaviour that everybody agrees needs to be pushed from the game. It’s interesting that the typically stodgy NFL, which has implemented tough new rules on leading with the head and driving the quarterback into the turf this season, now appears to be ahead of the CFL on the issue of player safety.
Now, it looks like Lulay is going to be fine but that shouldn’t overshadow what was a brutal miss by on-field officials. The league talks constantly about wanting to “get it right” but it didn’t here and it needs to find a way to fix that and fast.