The Simoni Lawrence head shot on Zach Collaros sparked debate surrounding the incident around the league.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie suspended Lawrence for two games, which was subsequently appealed. Following the linebacker’s decision to fight the discipline, Ambrosie said he was “deeply disappointed“.

Players’ union executive director Brian Ramsay responded:

“The commissioner’s gratuitous attack on the rights of players is an attempt to gain a public relations advantage during a difficult situation. Just like player safety, he says the right things in public but the League under his leadership acts quite differently when it comes to implementing change.”

Jamie Nye, host of CJME’s The Green Zone, conducted an excellent radio interview with Ramsay after his public statement. It covers nearly all the facets or the Lawrence and Collaros situation as well revealing details of collective bargaining proposals that were discussed with regards to player safety in the recent CBA negotiations.

Nye: What is the PA’s view of the hit Simoni Lawrence on Zach Collaros?

Ramsay: What we want nothing more is to make the game safer and take unnecessary injuries out of our game. And we’ve said that for the past number of years and specifically over the last number of months.

Nye: Why pick Simoni over Zach in this case?

Ramsay: It’s important to see that there are two key issues here. And the first is that we have a player that’s exercising his right under the collective agreement to appeal a suspension. And that’s the first issue and it’s straightforward.

It doesn’t mean, as the CFL commissioner has implied, that our credibility on player safety should diminish at all. Mr. Lawrence will have his day in court and to imply that he exercising his right under the collective agreement in any way suggests that we are not supporting our membership in player safety is quite frankly ridiculous.

Nye: Why can’t Zach appeal and say it should be three or four games?

Ramsay: One of the pieces that we’ve talked about internally and now we’re talking about publicly as the commissioner has decided to bring this to the forefront, is the difference between proactive and reactive. And we believe the inconsistent discipline of the league is reactive once a player is injured. And we want, and we’ve stated this before, we want to be proactive so that there are fewer injuries to our members.

Nye: Isn’t it up to the PA to tell their players to tell Simoni Lawrence don’t appeal this, we’re not supporting you in this appeal because that is an egregious hit, we agree with the league that you should be suspended two games.

Ramsay: What the CFL is doing here is they’re putting the responsibility of player safety on our members and yet they’re refusing and they have refused to give the players equal input to make the changes necessary. We don’t accept that and it’s irresponsible to suggest that the players have input on the risks that they’re taking and yet don’t have an ability to appeal a unilateral decision.

Nye: What was the proposal and what did the league say no to?

Ramsay: We had proposed in collective bargaining this time a discipline structure that would be a binding structure in terms of once the decision’s already been made. It’s a structure that’s been used and proven to have worked. That change was rejected out of hand by the CFL in bargaining.

There was also another very important part, a proposal for the health and safety committee to have a health and safety committee that has some teeth and the ability to make changes. This committee would be evenly balanced, representatives from the CFL and the league office and representatives from the membership. And this committee would be able to make adjustments, rules, changes to enforce player safety – and as I said before be proactive in doing it instead of reactive in doing it – and again that was rejected by the CFL.

Nye: Could you have advised Simoni Lawrence not to appeal?

Ramsay: What we’re appealing itself is the inconsistencies of the discipline. In the past, we’ve looked at individual instances where there’s been progressive discipline up and to a point where there has been a suspension and the association and the member did not appeal that. What we’ve identified here is that there is a clear inconsistency and we want to ensure that our members are treated fairly — every one of our members are treated fairly in terms of discipline.

What we’re being asked to do right now as players is to have the responsibility to punish our members for rules and standards that we have zero say in setting — and that’s outrageous to do.

Nye: How do you set a new precedent though and not go back top what it was?

Ramsay: The issue that we see now is, in this instance, Zach is already injured and the league’s discipline is reactive to that. We’ve requested time and time again, and we’re going to continue to request, that we’re proactive in making these changes so that there’s fewer of these happening.

Nye: Can the PA make an example of Simoni Lawrence within the association?

Ramsay: Reactively doing it after is not changing the culture. It’s not taking away the fact that our member is injured. I’m going to ask this question: if the CFL wants to see this change? Because actions speak louder than words.

In the first 12 months of implementation showed a 35 per cent reduction in injuries and concussions in padded practices. And in their proposal back to the players this year, the CFL tried to reintroduce padded practices into the regular season. What does that say about their concern for player safety?

Nye: Can you establish a fine system within the CFLPA?

Ramsay: If a system was implemented where the teams were monetarily fined for infractions, would that change everyone’s behaviour and change the culture faster than we’re seeing it change. The change has to start with the leadership. It has to start with the expectations of what the players are being coached to do.

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