Roughriders offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte wants to enjoy the Saskatchewan summer and not be housebound by “super restrictive” COVID-19 health and safety protocols in order to play football this year.
Initially all players were scheduled to quarantine for 14 days prior to training camp opening on July 10. That number was reduced to seven on Wednesday, but it came five days after LaBatte was supposed to start his lockdown. On top of it, CFL athletes are currently scheduled to be under strict rules for the first six weeks of the 2021 campaign.
“The restrictions definitely forced me into it. Signing up for the job that doesn’t allow you to have those freedoms and opportunities it is a deterrent, no doubt about it,” LaBatte said on a videoconference.
The six-time CFL all-star declined to confirm whether he has been vaccinated, although it was in the name of privacy. LaBatte doesn’t believe asking for vaccine status should be normalized in society because his belief is that information stays between the individual and health care provider.
“That’s the sole purpose for that, but obviously I think that there should be differences between those that are vaccinated and those that aren’t in this program when you’re dealing with this sort of setting,” LaBatte said.
“I was under the assumption that if you were vaccinated you’d be granted some freedoms. When I saw the blanket program, that was the deterrent. There’s nothing distinguishing, all players are falling under the same category. I thought they might have a two-tiered program in place.”
Rapid COVID-19 testing will be an important part of the three-down league’s daily operations to help prevent the virus from entering facilities across the country. However, the CFL has not outlined any differences for players who have chosen to be vaccinated compared to those deciding against vaccination to date.
“Once they started to lockdown at home and determine what you can and can’t do at your home during the week, I thought that was a bit much. We’re looking at the best two months that this province has to offer for weather — I’m going to do a lot of other things besides sitting in quarantine,” LaBatte said.
“Not being able to go out for meals or do anything in your hometown when the province is going to be wide open, that was really the biggest thing. I was on board with everything, but when it came to being in the hometown for six weeks until they’d re-evaluate, it just seemed like I was sacrificing the best two months that this province has to offer.”
Instead of playing football for the summer, LaBatte opted to spend quality time with his family, wife Amanda and three children, eight-year-old Asha, six-year-old Bayne, and two-year-old Everley. On Sunday morning, LaBatte woke up and called Riders’ general manager Jeremy O’Day to inform him of the decision to sit out.
“Time is ticking for how long they want to hang out and find it cool to want to go do all this family stuff,” LaBatte said.
“That’s the reality of it and I cherish my time with them and I cherish my time playing football too, but I just feel like essentially the ask has never been bigger to play and the reward has never been less. That’s just the long and the short of the story.”
LaBatte received a $30,000 signing bonus after reworking his contract last December. He was due to make a prorated $150,000 base salary for the shortened 14-game season with $9,000 available in all-star and Most Outstanding Lineman bonuses. The financial compensation wasn’t worth it for the Weyburn, Sask. native.
“When you lose 22 percent by losing four games, you look at it and then even the quarantine it’s about $550 bucks a week. I look at it and it’s 24-7 for seven days. 168 hours for $550 — it’s like $3.28 an hour,” LaBatte said.
The 34-year-old remains under contract with the Riders through the 2022 season. He’s slated to earn $150,000 in base salary along with a $30,000 first time active roster bonus and $9,000 available in all-star and Most Outstanding Lineman bonuses. Saskatchewan is scheduled to host the Grey Cup next year and LaBatte was part of the Green and White team to win the CFL title on home soil in 2013.
“That’s got big sentimental value. That would be huge to try and relive the glory days and do everything to make one last big push at it. That’s exciting, that’s interesting to me,” LaBatte said.
“The home Grey Cup has a lot of intrigue to me. It would be nice to mount one last charge.”