Collaros debacle shows the CFL has zero credibility on player safety

The next time CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie talks about the league’s commitment to player safety, remember Zach Collaros.

Picture the Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback taking a wicked shot to the head from B.C.’s Odell Willis and collapsing to the turf. Recall that neither official standing within 25 feet of the play, including the referee from the 2016 Grey Cup, threw a flag.

Then recollect that Collaros was clearly suffering from the after-effects of the hit. He took his time getting up. He crouched down several times to try and gather himself. The process dragged out long enough that the Riders burned a timeout and challenged the play.

When Ambrosie lists all the things the league has done to “improve” things, think back to this damning point: despite the presence of a dedicated injury spotter – who had more than three-and-a-half minutes to do something – Zach Collaros was allowed to return to the game for two more plays before his own team took him out.

If Ambrosie is still droning on, take the time to remember all the other egregious hits that haven’t been penalized, like the one on Travis Lulay or this one on Mike Reilly or the one on Bo Levi Mitchell. Or the dirty play on Luke Tasker that somehow escaped supplemental discipline. Try and understand how these plays are “making the game safer,” another one of Ambrosie’s key phrases.

Then, search for accountability when things go wrong.

The CFL has admitted it screwed up on multiple levels on the Collaros play. They gave a statement to TSN’s Farhan Lalji, who Tweeted it out – at 11 p.m. EST on a Sunday. No email to league media, nothing on their website (though there is a story about Collaros’ injury though.)

Maybe instead of puff pieces about the “swaggy” style of the B.C. Lions, the league can provide information to its fans and media on how one of its stars took a blow to the head that wasn’t flagged and was allowed to stay in the game despite the presence of a spotter whose job is to make sure that type of thing doesn’t happen.

As with officiating, if you want accountability from the CFL you have to follow Farhan Lalji on Twitter.

While it likes to tout itself as a progressive innovator, the hard truth is that the CFL has fallen behind on player safety. The NFL introduced several rule changes this year designed to make the game safer, none of which the CFL has adopted. They haven’t been without controversy and the NFL is hardly the poster child for ethical behaviour on this issue. And yet they are somehow ahead of the CFL – a league that doesn’t have the NFL’s deep pockets to compensate former players when brain trauma inevitably catches up with them.

Even U.S. college football, which uses replay to identify targeting penalties that are subject to immediate ejection, is a step ahead. While the CFL is willing to use a second replay official – the “eye in the sky” – to correct mundane inefficiencies surrounding yardage and minor infractions, they won’t use it to penalize players for blatant and dangerous head shots.

In a few weeks time, Ambrosie will give his annual state of the CFL address at Grey Cup. As he touts the league’s accomplishments, he’s sure to mention their progress on player safety. He knows the script and he uses his status as a former player to give it added gravitas so it will probably sound good.

Just remember what it really looks like.