Edmonton DB Aaron Grymes says COVID testing, vaccination statuses caused ‘extra divide’ in Elks locker room

Photo courtesy: AP Photo/Larry MacDougal

The Edmonton Elks spectacular collapse last season has been well-documented, but those who escaped the fallout have remained relatively tight-lipped about what went on inside the building.

Defensive back Aaron Grymes isn’t the type to tell tales out of school, but in an appearance on 980 CJME in Regina, the star halfback let slip what many already suspected: that COVID was a source of division within the team.

“I’m not usually somebody who gets too caught up with what’s going on outside the locker room, but when you’re losing games like that and you also have so many other things to worry about — whether it’s COVID or whether it’s guys arguing — it gets to be a lot,” Grymes acknowledged.

“All those losses kind of take some of the fun out of it. I have an absolute blast playing football, it’s my dream, this is how I provide for my family and I get to do it through a game, but I have the most fun when I win. When you’re losing week in and week out, and then you’re also having to deal with testing and vaccination statuses and guys… it was just an extra divide that didn’t need to be there.”

The Elks were the only CFL team to suffer a coronavirus outbreak during the 2021 season. Grymes was one of a dozen players entered into COVID protocol, causing the league to postpone their Week 4 game against the Toronto Argonauts and force Edmonton to play three games in seven days to end the year.

At the time, the outbreak was attributed to an “unintentional” breach of the CFL rules, but controversy continued to plague the team. Edmonton was forced to release starting offensive lineman Jacob Ruby shortly thereafter for misrepresenting his vaccination status. Several other star players, including running back James Wilder Jr. and then-quarterback Trevor Harris, were openly unvaccinated at the time of the outbreak, though all three athletes have since been immunized.

The COVID controversy was just one of many that plagued the Elks under the leadership of general manager Brock Sunderland — himself unvaccinated due to a medical exemption — and head coach Jaime Elizondo. The team ultimately finished last in the CFL without a single home victory, resulting in the firing of both men, as well as team president Chris Presson.

“It was tough, man, but some of us made it out on the other end and we’re looking forward to this year,” Grymes said. “All that stuff’s in the past now, I’m ready to get out there and compete.”

The team now has a popular new president in Victor Cui and a proven winner in head coach and general manager Chris Jones. Returning players like Grymes are excited about the change and know they will also need to create a different locker room dynamic.

“We’re going to have to have a little bit of a culture shift, just in terms of competition, everybody being bought in and guys enjoying playing for each other, not just themselves,” he noted.

The Elks new leader is no stranger to controversy in his own right, but Grymes knows from experience that Jones will create an entirely different atmosphere. A quick franchise turnaround is well within the realm of possibility.

“People can say what they want about Coach Jones, but if nothing else, we’re going to be competitive,” Grymes predicted. “We’re going to compete and that mindset will never change. If that’s not your mindset, then you don’t even waste your time coming to camp.”

“That attitude and that swagger that’s brought to the field, it’s unmatched. I played some of my best football with Coach Jones, so I’m excited to get back after it with him.”