It may be a raucous Grey Cup week, but commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s State of the League press conference took on a sober note when addressing the issue of Jonathan Hefney.
The two-time league all-star, who played eight seasons with the Blue Bombers, Stampeders and Alouettes, was sentenced to nine years in prison this September for drug trafficking.
Hefney suffered a catastrophic injury in a CFL game that limited his arm mobility, prevented him from working and forced him to turn to GoFundMe to pay for medical fees. Many felt his incarceration was a direct result of the league’s failure to properly support injured players.
“I shared a locker room with a lot of players, many of whom are friends of mine today and many who I’ve lost contact with, and of course what you’d want for all of them is a good life.” said Ambrosie when asked about the former defensive back. “It clearly didn’t happen for Jonathan and for that I think we can all just say that’s a tragedy.”
Hefney suffered three fractured vertebrae and nerve damage that left him with limited use of his arm. According to Hefney, he suffered an injury to the brachial plexus, which is a network of nerves that sends signals to your shoulder, arm and hand. Minor brachial plexus injuries are common in football and are known as stingers or burners while more severe cases can lead to paralysis and loss of function which is what happened to Hefney.
The Montreal Alouettes, for whom Hefney played when he was hurt, covered the cost of Hefney’s first surgery via insurance but their obligations ended a year after the injury.
That has since changed.
“Jonathan Hefney was a flashpoint for a different type of discussion.” Ambrosie admitted, as he praised the league and CFLPA for their work on injury protection during last year’s CBA negotiations.
“American players are now covered for three years and that is a big step in the right direction.”
The commissioner wasn’t coy about more needing to be done, however.
“We have to think differently about this issue,” he conceded. “Maybe going forward we can get ahead of it.”
It will be too little, too late for Jonathan Hefney, but hopefully the next player in need won’t face the same struggles.