The Toronto Argonauts won’t have to deal with defensive tackle Garrett Marino when they take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2022 Touchdown Atlantic game, but his late hit on Jeremiah Masoli last week has made waves within their locker room nonetheless.
“That’s a really ugly incident and speaking from Jeremiah’s words himself, it’s unacceptable,” a steely-eyed McLeod Bethel-Thompson said in Nova Scotia.
“It’s unacceptable in this league, it’s unacceptable in any league. I hope that there’s serious remorse there. I hope that us addressing it is going to eliminate that from our league and from sports in general.”
Marino was ejected from his team’s Week 5 win over Ottawa for a late and low hit on the Redblacks’ franchise quarterback and was seen celebrating as he left the field. Masoli will miss at least the next ten to twelve weeks with injury, while Marino has been suspended for a total of four games: two for the hit on Masoli, one for an illegal hit on offensive tackle Dino Boyd, and one for making verbal comments about “Masoli’s heritage.”
Long-time teammates with Masoli in Hamilton, Argos’ receiver Brandon Banks said he was in contact with his former quarterback immediately following the game to offer his support.
“Obviously, as a friend, I’m just trying to be there with him, keeping positive thoughts because I know what Jeremiah has been through,” Banks said. “He’s been through a lot and he just wants to get his chance to play football. And then for somebody else and on somebody else’s watch, for him to have to go to surgery and be taken out of games and stuff like that, it sucks.”
“It was a pretty dirty hit, in my opinion. I just hope for a speedy recovery and I hope that guy from Sask learned from it. I don’t agree with things like that, so I hope things get better for the league and hopefully, Jeremiah has a speedy recovery.”
The incident sent shockwaves around the league, with Ottawa receiver Nate Behar levelling accusations of racism at Marino post-game. The d-lineman later acknowledged making “an insensitive and culturally stereotypical remark” towards Masoli in his official written apology, but he has been defended by several members of the Roughriders organization.
Saskatchewan head coach Craig Dickenson has repeatedly denied claims that Marino is racist, citing the fact that his fiancee and best friend are both Black. He later apologized for those comments, calling them “racially insensitive and irrelevant.”
The CFL attributed just one game of Marino’s ban to those allegations, a stance that Masoli criticized as “a slap on the wrist” in his own written statement. Bethel-Thompson agrees with his fellow quarterback, taking care to call out Marino’s behaviour and its defenders.
“You heard it right from Jeremiah’s mouth. It’s unacceptable. It cannot be excused. It has to be addressed,” he insisted. “There should be no excuses about who you know and who you don’t know that makes those words acceptable. It is unacceptable at any place, anytime, anywhere and we as a league need to speak out and not allow that to be.”
“I hope that everyone involved has learned a great lesson from that and that anyone in this league has learned a great lesson from that. There is no place and no time where that’s acceptable and there’s no excuse for it.”
Banks offered no comment on whether he thought Marino’s suspension was long enough and Bethel-Thompson steered clear of outright criticism of the league as well, though he suggested that Masoli might have received a more sympathetic ear if he were in charge.
“That’s not my call. I’m not in that position, I’m not the commissioner. If I were the commissioner, maybe that’s an appropriate question,” he deflected. “But you heard what Jeremiah said, he experienced it. He’s a vet in this league. He’s one of the best players in this league. We should listen to him and we should understand that there’s no excuse for it. Everyone involved should be very remorseful and that should never happen again.”
That was a sentiment shared by Argonauts’ head coach Ryan Dinwiddie. A former quarterback himself, he emphasized that the CFL can’t afford to jeopardize the health of their most valuable players.
“We’ve got to protect our quarterbacks. That’s what gets the league going, it’s quarterback play,” Dinwiddie stressed.
“It’s unfortunate. I don’t want to get too much into the specifics of it, but we’ve got to protect our players. Player safety is the key and if it was deliberately dirty, I have a tough spot with that. Occasionally you’ll aim at the waist and get a little bit low, but I thought that was a dirty hit and we don’t have any spot for that in our league.”
The CFL quarterbacking fraternity is tight knit and Bethel-Thompson and Dinwiddie are not the first to vocally defend Masoli. Others have shared their own experiences dealing with late hits from Marino, though Toronto’s journeyman pivot says he has no recollection of being on the receiving end himself.
“I’ve never heard of that guy, to be honest. Until this week, I never heard of him. I didn’t know who he was,” Bethel-Thompson admitted. “Asking around, he’s got a very bad reputation. That’s unfortunate and everyone makes mistakes but there’s no acceptance. It’s not okay and I hope he’s learning that.”
Marino has opted not to appeal his suspension and Dickenson had previously stated that the team wouldn’t allow him to travel to Halifax regardless of the league’s ruling. Nevertheless, the Riders have chosen to stick with Marino despite the high-profile incident, a decision that Dinwiddie won’t fault his opponent for.
“I don’t want to get into how Craig’s handled it, that’s not our business,” he said. “We’re focused on our football club, but I think you don’t know [how you’d deal with it] unless you’re in that situation.”
The CFL hopes that conversation around Marino’s behaviour soon fades and that focus is placed back on their Touchdown Atlantic festivities, but it remains a hot topic for people around the league.
However, the incident will have a tangible impact on the contest in the Maritimes, as the Argos will benefit from playing a Riders’ defensive line without injured sack master Pete Robertson or the very real threat of Marino up the middle.