Riders’ Craig Dickenson apologizes for ‘racially insensitive and irrelevant’ comment made while defending Garrett Marino

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Saskatchewan Roughriders’ head coach Craig Dickenson has defended defensive lineman Garrett Marino from accusations of racism.

“He’s not a racist and there’s zero evidence that there’s any racial motivation or any racial slurs. I’ve talked to him, I’ve talked to other guys that were in the game. He is engaged to a black woman, just so people know that. His best friend is an African-American. He’s not a racist and I think that spin is just a convenient way to maybe make it seem a little bit easier to hate on the guy, but he’s not a racist,” Dickenson told 620 CKRM in Regina.

“Is he rough? Darn right. Is he physical? Absolutely. Does he push the line? Yes. Does he cross it? Yes, occasionally he does and we need to reel him back. The racial element? I don’t see it and I don’t think it’s accurate to say that’s involved at all. That’s my take on it.”

Dickenson later apologized for his comments on his Twitter account, expressing regret for how he tried to illustrate his defence of Marino.

“What I said today in defence of Garrett Marino was racially insensitive and irrelevant. I attempted to defend his character amid accusations that he said something racially or culturally insensitive by pointing out that he has many close friends who are black and a long-term girlfriend who is also black. I realize this comment is insensitive and irrelevant to the conversation. I apologize for this comment. That being said, I stand by my belief that Garrett is being unfairly characterized and punished for his actions,” he wrote.

Dickenson’s radio interview was conducted shortly before the CFL announced that Marino had been suspended for four total games, including a one-game suspension for “verbal comments Marino made about [Jeremiah] Masoli’s heritage during the game.”

Marino was handed a two-game suspension for his illegal hit on the Ottawa Redblacks’ quarterback that will force him to miss the next ten-to-twelve weeks due to injury. Marino was ejected from the game and left the field celebrating by flexing his arms and saluting the crowd with his helmet raised in the air.

Dickenson was not a fan of the hit but he denied that his defensive lineman intended to hurt Masoli.

“I don’t believe he tried to hurt the quarterback. He did go low, which is a penalty and if you hurt the guy, you’re going to get fined for it. His reaction was what got him in trouble and that’s what I was most disappointed in — it wasn’t the fact that he went low on the quarterback, he knows he can’t do that,” said Dickenson.

“Mistakes happen in the game and I can live with it but the reaction and how he handled the ejection? That I was disappointed in and still am, but do I think he should be cut? No, we’re not going to cut a guy for that but he knows he’s running out of chances. At the same time, I think it’s a serious offence and something we take very seriously in-house,” said Dickenson.

Marino was also suspended one game for hitting Redblacks’ offensive lineman Dino Boyd from behind, which he did in retaliation of Boyd’s late hit on Riders’ defensive end Pete Robertson from the previous series. Marino has been ejected twice in only 12 career CFL games and has been fined multiple times.

Dickenson believes the 27-year-old is learning from his actions and has already made strides to fix his style of play from his rookie season.

“If you look at Marino from last year, he’s improved dramatically. Look at the amount of penalties he’s taken this year compared to last year. If you throw this game out, he’s way down on penalties he’s taken this year. If you’re around him in the building he’s way different,” said Dickenson.

“Coaches are always responsible for the behaviour of their players and ultimately at the end of the day if the player isn’t gonna play the way you want them to, you have to make a decision to let him go but I don’t think we’re at that point right now with Garrett.”

The Riders (4-1) are set to take on the Toronto Argonauts (1-2) on Saturday in the 2022 Touchdown Atlantic game, which is set to be played at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. The two most likely candidates to replace Marino at his starting defensive tackle spot are rookie Miles Brown and Canadian veteran Charbel Dabire.