The money made by CFL players isn’t as modest as it would appear the average Canadian sports fan would like to believe.
The average salary, pegged between $80,000 and $95,000 CAD annually would be a decent income compared to the average Canadian. It’s the side effects of being a pro athlete, rather than the income itself, that squeezes our three-down gridiron greats for cash during the off-season.
The seasonal nature of the job prevents players from cashing a regular paycheque for up to seven months at a time. Not to mention the cost of living in one city while paying for a permanent home in another, as many players do.
Most starters and impact players live in the United States and have to convert their loonies into U.S. green bucks at a reduction of roughly 23 percent through the foreign exchange rate.
And there is the lifestyle of a 20-something football star, which doesn’t come cheap either, with fancy cars, late-night parties and sometimes lots of bling (jewelry).
Let’s not forget about the challenge many of these players face in transitioning from one career to another in their late twenties or early thirties when their playing careers end.
We hear a lot about the plight of injured players medical bills including the tragic story of Jonathan Hefney, now doing nine years in a South Carolina state prison for trafficking drugs. Some have blamed his financial woes stemming from a debilitating injury at the end of his CFL career.
These are all big problems that CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie tried to solve by publicly and famously telling players to get an off-season job.
“The other thing to recognize is that at the end of the season our players are free to work and I frankly, I encourage them to do that.”
“You’re a perfectly healthy, vibrant player and then it all takes one injury,” Ambrosie said.
“That’s how I built my career. I worked during the season as well but I worked full-time in the off-season and I would encourage our guys to do that, to start building an opportunity for their after-football life which comes up more quickly than you would think when you’re in the game.”
Another retired CFL offensive linemen agrees. Mike Abou-Mechrek played 10 seasons and now lives in Regina, serving as a popular media personality and working as a Certified Financial Planner.
11 years removed from his playing days, Abou-Mechrek felt fortunate to not have to work a “regular job” and working an off-season job helped remind him of that.
“The CFL isn’t the NFL or a major sport with major sport revenues,” he says. “If players understand that, I think they’ll be more accepting of a $60,000 salary, for five months, coming out of school. CFL minimum is still better than most jobs coming out of school.”
But not all players or ex-players see it that way.
During the 2018-2019 off-season, CFL Hall of Famer Eddie Davis said, “People don’t understand the cost it entails to be an elite athlete. Guys have to pay their trainers $10,000 to $25,000 in the off-season just to train to stay on top of their game. They (the players) need to be paid for what they’re putting out on the field and what they’re investing in their craft.”
It costs time and money during the off-season to be an elite athlete and it’s pretty tough to be at your best when you’re focused on something else.
And if it sounds like American players not protected by import ratio have a different view than Canadian players who are, it’s because they do.
Marcus Adams played eight seasons in Saskatchewan, bouncing back and forth from the practice roster to the active roster for about half of that time and had plenty to say on the subject.
“Of course it’s no big deal for Canadian players because they know they are going to have a job even if their current team cuts them (since) another team will sign them,” said Adams.
“American players have it hard because there are so many talented American players who’re trying to play and are willing to do whatever it takes to play and make money.”
A CFL GM told Adams back when he played that, “American players come a dime a dozen and that’s why we (CFL teams) pay American players less than some of their Canadian backups or less talented players.”
It’s not the first time the Canadian and American players have disagreed on these issues and it won’t be the last.
Players should think about supplementing their income where they can, including staying in the cities where they play and try to leverage their playing career fame into financial opportunities, rather than scurrying home at seasons’ end.
But that alone, won’t solve this problem.
Not by a long shot.