Since it was founded in 1965, the CFL Players’ Association has had 11 presidents and just two – Mike Wadsworth and George Reed – have been American born. Reed served two stints from 1972 to 1981 and again from 1986 to 1993 so there’s been plenty of U.S. influence. But since Dan Ferrone took over after Reed’s second term, five Canadians have held the role covering the last 25 years. Former offensive lineman Jeff Keeping has been in the job since 2016.
Fair or not, the perception has been that the interests of American players has taken a back seat to their Canadian counterparts. Current and former union executives would vehemently reject that notion, pointing out that a union is led by representatives elected by the membership – basically, the people willing to stand up and step up. Americans, perhaps more focused on finding their way to the NFL or inclined to believe the deck was stacked against them, have been less active.
As a result, of the current six-member union leadership team (including executive director Brian Ramsay), five are Canadian and four are former offensive linemen.
At the grassroots level, however, there has been an increase in international participation. Of the 18 players reps in 2018 – two for each team – 11 were American-born. It’s those players who vote on the executive positions every year at the annual general meeting like the one held last March. And it’s important to remember that international players and quarterbacks make up the majority of players in the CFL.
Which brings us to the ratio debate and why the CFLPA, after years of protecting the interests of Canadian players, appears to be willing to consider a decrease in the number of national starters: because that’s what a significant portion – maybe even the majority – of their membership wants.
The union has always been in a difficult position, trying to balance the interest of two groups with agendas that sometimes run counter to one another. Canadian players are protected by the ratio and have their value determined, in part, by the scarcity of national talent. Those sae forces can also inflate their compensation. American players exist in the meritocracy that defines most professional sports – the better players generally play more and get paid more. They also sometimes chafe at the idea that their national teammates are judged (or paid) by different standards.
And while much is made about the “Canadian” part of the Canadian Football League, it’s important to remember that a disproportionate number of the league’s stars and skill players are American. Of the 27 CFL all-stars last year, just seven were Canadian and three play positions along the offensive line that are almost exclusively national. There is plenty of home-grown talent in the CFL to be sure. But most of the game’s elite are from the U-S-A.
For the first time in recent memory, it feels like American players are having a significant influence over the union’s agenda. Of the seven players on the bargaining committee – Ramsay, Keeping, Solomon Elimimian, Rolly Lumbala, treasurer Peter Dyakowski, John Bowman and Chad Rempel – two are veteran international players. And whatever deal they strike will have to be ratified by the membership.
The debate over the ratio has been a contentious one for both fans and players alike but what’s become clear is that the American players are being heard – both on social media and at the negotiating table.