Lawler apologizes as Bombers rally around suspended teammate following arrest

Photo courtesy: CFL/Jimmy Jeong

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ receiver Kenny Lawler spoke to the media on Tuesday for the first time since he was arrested for operating a motor vehicle while impaired.

“This was a mistake. It was a selfish decision, a bad decision on my part. I knew better not to step in that car. I’m sorry to everyone out there,” said Lawler via videoconference. “I want to apologize to my coaches, my teammates, the organization, my family, the Bomber community, the fans and let them know that I’m truly sorry.”

The 27-year-old was arrested early Monday morning in Winnipeg. Though he declined to provide details of the incident, head coach Mike O’Shea said that Lawler was involved in a single-vehicle accident in which there were no injuries. He also indicated that he did not believe Lawler was socializing with teammates prior to the incident.

“I made a mistake being immature,” said Lawler. “I pride myself on coming in as a mature veteran and with something like this happening, it’s not a good look for me, it’s not a good look for the team. I’m just really sorry for having to put a lot of people through this.”

The Blue Bombers suspended Lawler for one game, which means he will miss Friday’s meeting with the Edmonton Elks. The receiver will be permitted to take part in all team activities while serving his suspension, which O’Shea felt was in the best interest of Lawler and the rest of the team.

“One of the things I’m in charge of is our players’ safety, healthy, and well-being,” said the veteran head coach. “If I tell Kenny to remove himself from the team and sit at home by himself for X number of days, I don’t think that’s healthy for Kenny and I don’t think that’s healthy for the team.

“I think there’s a process that we have to go through and the process needs to start immediately and part of that process is Kenny being around. I’m sure there’s obviously some emotions that Kenny’s going to go through as he’s facing his teammates that he has to go through, but it’s better to go through it now than let it stew.”

Lawler faced his teammates on Tuesday morning and offered an apology for his behaviour. He admitted that he was dreading walking into the team’s locker room but feels thankful for the reception he received.

“When I walked into this locker room, I was being hugged on. People were coming and patting me on my back letting me know that I’m about to get through this because I was feeling the worst ever and like I could not get through it. With the teammates and my family, they’ve been very supportive,” said Lawler.

O’Shea said the team suspended Lawler to show that it doesn’t condone his behaviour. The veteran head coach also indicated that the team did not consider releasing the receiver following their internal investigation of the incident.

“When we met yesterday, it was very, very obvious that I didn’t need to spend a lot of time on the behaviour,” said O’Shea. “If the reaction was different, then my reaction would be different but it was quite apparent that he was quite upset at the mistake and the decision he made.”

Andrew Harris knows what it’s like to face adversity in the middle of a strong season, having been suspended for two games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance in August 2019.

“Things happen and this is why you have brothers and teammates and family,” said Harris. “We stick together and we have Kenny’s back, understanding that people make mistakes. We know that he’s remorseful and we’re going to have his back. We’ve talked about it internally, we realize that it is what it is, and we gotta just move on from it now.”

The veteran running back returned from his suspension in 2019 and helped lead the Blue Bombers to the Grey Cup, being named the game’s Most Valuable Canadian and Most Valuable Player.

“One of the hardest parts is when you get back in the lineup after being out for something that is maybe not the most glamorous or might have an impact on your emotions,” said Harris. “He’s gotta check those emotions and realize that he’s still got a job to do and come out and execute.”

Lawler currently leads the CFL with 703 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 45 receptions. He set new career-highs in Week 9 with 12 receptions for 205 yards and one touchdown in Winnipeg’s 30-9 win over the B.C. Lions.

“I want to be able to lead by example. I was raised to make better decisions. I remember now my dad always talking about, ‘You need to be a leader, not a follower.’ Just thinking about all that, that was the toughest phone call I had to make besides notifying the team,” said Lawler.

“I’m just thankful and blessed that I didn’t hurt nobody. I didn’t even hurt myself. Something like this could be ten times worse.”

Though the team did not indicate who will start on Friday in place of Lawler, it is likely that veteran Naaman Roosevelt will make his Blue Bombers debut following a month-long stint on the practice roster.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.