Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton is facing accusations of systemic racism in their Olympic selection process, a dispute which pits two athletes with CFL ties against one another.
In a bombshell CBC report, former CFL running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence alleges that he was passed over for the final spot on the Olympic team in favour of then-Saskatchewan Roughrider defensive back Jacob Dearborn, whom he describes as a “walk-on” athlete who had never competed with his eventual teammates.
Murray-Lawrence, who is Black, believes that systemic racism within the national sport organization was the determining factor in the decision.
“When one athlete is white and one athlete is Black, you know, do we see past that?” Murray-Lawrence asked. “Do we say: ‘Oh, no, that’s normal.’ Or is there something deeply rooted?”
The native of Scarborough, ON has raced in 11 four-man competitions since joining the national bobsleigh program in 2020, serving as the brakeman on a sled that had won seven gold medals and two silvers in North American and European events. He was also part of the team that qualified a third Canadian sled for the Beijing Olympics, a feat only achieved by one other nation.
Instead of reaping the rewards of those efforts, Murray-Lawrence was demoted to an Olympic alternate in favour of the inexperienced Dearborn, who had raced just five times since picking up the sport and never finished higher than fifth.
Canada’s Sled 3 ultimately finished 23rd in Beijing, the group’s worst result of the season.
“I gave this sport everything that I had. I gave my country everything I had. I gave the organization everything I had. I made the ultimate sacrifice and I got screwed in the end,” Murray-Lawrence told the CBC.
A third-round CFL Draft choice in 2015 out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Murray-Lawrence spent parts of five seasons with the B.C. Lions, Riders, and Montreal Alouettes. He carried the ball 48 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 13 receptions for 73 yards and 67 kickoff returns for 1,478 yards.
The former ball-carrier alleges that he was asked to quit football in order to show his commitment to the bobsleigh program, turning down a contract offer from the Alouettes in order to pay his own way onto the competition circuit.
Dearborn was allowed to continue his career in the CFL and did not begin competing with the team until January, an option that was never even offered to Murray-Lawrence.
“I compete all year. I win all year. [Dearborn] joins the program with 30 days left and just leapfrogs onto the Olympic team,” he explained.
“[Dearborn] didn’t make any sacrifices. He just showed up at the end of the year and took my job.”
Undrafted out of Carleton University in 2019, Dearborn had a breakout CFL season with the Riders in 2021. He dressed for eight games and made two starts at strong-side linebacker, recording 18 defensive tackles, two special teams tackles, and two interceptions.
Dearborn was ultimately granted the final spot for Beijing after edging out Murray-Lawrence in a two-man bobsled competition by 0.03 seconds. Murray-Lawrence had never raced in the two-man format before and claims he was put through four practice runs prior to the race, while Dearborn was made to do only one.
Murray-Lawrence filed for arbitration to get his position back through the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada, but only one teammate agreed to testify on his behalf, Sled 2 pilot Chris Spring. The arbitrator ultimately ruled in favour of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton’s argument that Dearborn was the better option due to his versatility to compete in two-man competition if needed.
The national sports organization has been mired in controversy recently after 90 current and former bobsleigh/skeleton athletes signed a letter calling out BCS for “deeply held biases” that “ensure in many cases that only the athletes who fit into the ‘BCS ideal’ will ever have the opportunity to compete.” However, the organization denies that race played a factor in the decision to roster Dearborn over Murray-Lawrence.
Nonetheless, a disillusioned Murray-Lawrence has decided to quit the sport and is now seeking to resume his CFL career after two years lost to a stolen Olympic dream. Both he and Dearborn are currently free agents.