CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has come under intense criticism from players and fans for his handling of the 2020 season and the COVID-19 crisis.
But TSN colour commentator Glen Suitor came to his defence on Thursday in an impassioned rant on The Green Zone radio show in Regina.
“To suggest that the CFL doesn’t care or that management in the CFL just doesn’t care about their players is not a true statement. It’s inflammatory and it’s not helpful,” he said on 980 CJME.
The comments came in response to a Rob Maver interview on the same platform Wednesday, in which he berated the league boss.
“Ambrosie came in stating as a former player that he was going to do such great things and rehabilitate that relationship between the league and the players and he’s done nothing but make it worse, truth be told,” the former Calgary Stampeder punter said, echoing the sentiments of many.
Suitor didn’t disagree with Maver on everything, but felt the need to speak up on the side of league management.
“In all the conversations I’ve had with Randy Ambrosie, both publicly and privately, I can tell you he does care about the players. When I’ve had conversations with Craig Reynolds in Saskatchewan, I guarantee you he cares about the players. In fewer conversations, the same is true of Bob Young in Hamilton, of management in Toronto, and so forth. I know they do care about the players,” Suitor said.
Suitor pointed out that many of Ambrosie’s projects and initiatives have been aimed at improvements for players.
“Protocols that the league and Randy have put in place in regards to player safety, changing rules and the research that is ongoing to try and find safer ways for the players to play. The PA can ask at any point in that conversation why players are still cheapshoting each other and whether or not there should be self-governing going on there,” he said pointedly.
Other broader business initiatives are also beneficial to the players according to Suitor.
“The pandemic has stopped great momentum on a tenth franchise. A new franchise means 60 or 70 brand new players are employed. Employing another 60 ball players in our country, both Canadian and American, that’s a player initiative that the pandemic has put on hold.”
“I’ll even take it a step further on the third point, CFL 2.0, I know there is lots of debate about that and the move to other league’s around the world, but there are two reasons for that,” explained Suitor.
”The first objective is to one day increase revenue to the league, which means the players will get paid more, but the other is to give an opportunity to U Sports athletes so that they will have another avenue to continue their football dream and possibly make a living doing it one day, if they go play in Europe or Mexico and take smaller steps to become a pro once they get drafted.”
“[Those are] things that no one will talk about because they are good things and they don’t draw ratings,” he emphasized. “Those are all initiatives that ultimately help the players.”
Suitor, a former All-Star safety with Saskatchewan, believes he knows where players get led down the rabbit hole of mistrust and resentment. He says even the legally mandated and available financial information of publicly owned teams like Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Saskatchewan can become the subject of conspiracy theories.
“The players will look at those numbers at times and will not believe them. They think that there is something else going on, other payments being made and people getting paid that aren’t getting paid,” he said.
“I understand as a former player. I know the conversations that go on in a locker room and I understand the lack of trust that is always there between the league and its employees. It’s the same in a lot of businesses.”
Suitor wanted to be careful not to be overly supportive of the league office but his primary concern remained the health of the league.
“I don’t want to be the agent of Randy Ambrosie or sound like I am his agent and one day, when we’re playing football again and the league is building towards a prosperous future, I would be happy to put down a complete report card on how the league and the PA handled this,” Suitor said. “I don’t want to side with one or the other when the league is in the trouble it is financially.”
He thinks the dialogue between the league and the CFLPA has greatly improved in recent days.
“The attacks and contentious negotiations that normally happen in a regular year have changed over the last week or two. From what I’m hearing, both sides are realizing that the common enemy is not each other but the virus and how to work through this,” Suitor said.
Both sides face a difficult situation where, according to Suitor, everyone involved will lose money.
“I think they are intense discussions. There is a reality check for everyone involved, just like Canadian families, we are all looking at finances, we are all looking at business plans and how we can try and make this work,” Suitor said.
As for the lifelong CFL lover Suitor, the difficult times have taken a personal toll as the league inches towards a deadline with no breakthrough. When asked how he felt about the prospect of a season, the lovable voice of CFL football was frank.
“Last night I barely slept at all, staring at the ceiling.”
Many fans are having the same problem.