‘It starts from the top guy’: Argos’ McLeod Bethel-Thompson takes aim at CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie for negative league narratives

Photo: Matthew Johnson/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

The Grey Cup is still a few days away but Toronto Argonauts’ quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson is already firing darts in the direction of CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, the 34-year-old gunslinger addressed what he perceives as negative narratives surrounding the league in a fiery rant. Though he did not publicly name the commissioner, Bethel-Thompson made clear that any issues could be traced directly to the CFL’s leadership.

“It starts from the top guy, let’s be honest with it. The face of this league, I’ve never met him,” he stated.

“I’m not here to judge, it’s not me versus him. I’m not trying to knock anybody, I’m just saying let’s do better. Let’s all collectively grab like we do on a football team. We fight for a better purpose to grow this league. It’s a great frickin’ league. Don’t lose it.”

A fierce advocate for the CFL since arriving in the league six years ago, Bethel-Thompson has taken aim at the head office before. He was critical of the league’s leniency towards former Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive tackle Garrett Marino following his late hit on Jeremiah Masoli in July, taking issue with the league’s weak response to allegations of racist remarks.

Masoli missed the remainder of the season due to a leg injury while Marino received a four-game suspension for the incident. The controversial defender was later barred from the league but only after returning from suspension and being fined again for dangerous play.

Bethel-Thompson rehashed the issue on Wednesday, noting that he remains deeply unsatisfied with the league’s initial response.

“We saw what happened this year. Come on, there was no leadership in that room,” Bethel-Thompson said. “We saw that dirty crap that was going on and the players had to stand up for themselves. Come on, man. Players had to stand up for themselves?”

“That’s my brother and I saw him have to stand up for himself on social media. There’s no leadership there.”

Beyond the mishandling of player safety, Bethel-Thompson believes that the league hasn’t done enough to grow the game. He noted that the Argos did not host a single kids camp when they attended training camp in Guelph this summer and locals hardly knew they were there. Meanwhile, the hype machine south of the border ensures that the NFL is constantly in front of fans with positive storylines.

“They pump it in there. They’re constantly conversing, talking about, and pumping the league,” Bethel-Thompson explained. “When there’s a 7-6 game or a 10-6 game in the NFL, they talk about how great the defence played. That’s what they talk about, that’s their focus, because they know that they’re protecting a brand. They’re making a culture.”

Bethel-Thompson believes the CFL hasn’t always succeeded in generating positive messaging and fails to address pervasive narratives around the league’s talent level.

“There’s a top 20 percent of the NFL that are freak daddies, no doubt. The Aaron Donalds of the world, freak daddies, right? And there’s the middle 60 percent just like us — I was there, just like me — and there’s a bottom 20 percent where it’s like, bruh, you would get cut from a CFL team,” Bethel-Thompson explained.

“That’s the talent level, right? But the narrative around that is, ‘Oh my god, it’s the NFL. Oh my god, it’s juiced up, it’s full of people.’ We don’t do that up here. We talk about the negatives. We find ways to drag each other down. It’s like crabs in a barrel.”

Ambrosie is scheduled to address the media on Friday morning following his state of the league address and will face questions regarding his six-year tenure at the helm. With globalization posing an existential threat and the pervasive shadow of the NFL growing ever darker, it remains unclear if the league’s current plan to grow revenues and connect with new fans can be effective.

For Bethel-Thompson, negative narratives are not a reflection of the media, but rather poor leadership. The secret to success lies in the players themselves, should the commissioner choose to truly embrace them.

“This is a great league with great men that have scars. We’ve all been under attack, the game has been taken from us. We play the game with a level of passion and grit and love,” he said.

“The talent’s there, the passion is better, the level of desire is higher and it’s not conversed about in a positive light all the time. It’s dragged down. It’s refining the flaws in it.”

While sharply critical, Bethel-Thompson does not believe his comments are truly negative but a call to action for all involved that he hopes the top brass can hear.

“Let’s speak positive of the things that are going on. Let’s grow this thing together,” he stressed. “It’s everyone pull the rope and let’s make this thing go, because it’s a special league.”

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.