‘This is an error on my part’: Argos GM Pinball Clemons takes blame for McLeod Bethel Thompson’s Raptors game fiasco

Photo courtesy: Toronto Argonauts

The CFL community was blindsided by the news that Toronto quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson might miss the East Final after violating the league’s COVID protocols by attending a Toronto Raptors game, but it appears that the Argonauts’ front office unwittingly signed off on his public appearance.

Argos general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons joined Stephen Brunt and Arash Madani on The FAN Drive Time in the aftermath of the controversy and admitted he was informed of his starting QB’s planned Raptors game attendance well in advance.

“I did hear that he was going to be going to the game ahead of time and it was certainly my thought that he’s been approved to go to the game, they’ve done the protocol things,” Pinball acknowledged for the radio audience. “I’ve had one or two things that I have done that I’ve asked the league on the protocols and so all of those things we thought were inherent in his visit.”

Per CFL Tier One protocol, players or staff planning to attend more large scale gatherings must get them approved by the league office, with additional quarantine protocols likely added as a result. Clemons was unaware that Bethel-Thompson had not undergone this approval process, but insisted that the oversight was not the quarterback’s fault.

“McLeod Bethel-Thompson is just an extraordinary young man when you speak to him, when you interview him. He simply obliged what the team asked him to do and so finds himself kind of stuck in the middle,” Clemons explained. “This is an error on my part. This is a situation that we should not have put him in.”

While Pinball wished to deflect the blame onto his own shoulders, it is unclear at what level of the organization that the COVID non-compliant cross-promotion was either suggested or approved.

Fortunately for the club, the issue is now largely a moot point after the CFL elected to alter their policy in order for Bethel Thompson, and four other teammates also in attendance, to return in time for the East Final.

Per the CFL’s own original tier one personnel rules, Bethel-Thompson was supposed to quarantine for four days and require two negative tests before he is allowed to be around the team again. Now, he must quarantine for just two days, complete three tests (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday), and have all those tests come back negative in order to play Sunday.

Some opposing fans and the CFLPA have taken issue with the league’s choice to unilaterally provide the Argos with special protocols, but Pinball believes the spirit of the original rule is being maintained.

“The big thing here is that I don’t think these rules were put in place to be predatory. They were put in place to help keep people safe,” Clemons said of the CFL decision to provide his quarterback with a path to staying on the field.

“They got together and decided … there was a possibility. That they felt like they could do the necessary things and that if he passed the test that he needed to that they’d feel safe, that he would be safe enough not only to play himself, but to play against opponents.”

Nonetheless, Clemons doesn’t begrudge the league or its fans for demanding these tough conversations be had.

“Listen, I was only tongue in cheek when I said you could go to the other subject. We need to speak to these things, they are important and it’s important to know that we’re not putting the public itself at risk,” he said. Even what was done at the game, wasn’t a public risk, it was an offense of what it is our Tier 1 protocols.”

The Argos will still have to practice for the East Final without their starting quarterback, but in typical Pinball fashion, there is a silver lining to be found there too.

“I’m so full of so much right now. There’s a real joy from what has happened and how the guys have come together in this whole situation,” he said, almost audibly grinning. “Today has been a little bit of a crazy day and with all of that said, it adds a little bit to the game itself.”