Saskatchewan Roughriders’ defensive end Pete Robertson is taking responsibility for his actions in the Labour Day Classic and will not appeal the one-game suspension handed down by the CFL on Monday.
Robertson will be forced to sit out Saturday’s Banjo Bowl rematch after he headbutted Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros in the fourth quarter of Saskatchewan’s win last week. The blow came well after the whistle following a red zone incompletion that seemingly stalled a Winnipeg drive and initially went unpenalized before the command centre intervened to assess a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty.
“I couldn’t even really truly explain it, it’s just a play that happened,” Robertson told the media on Wednesday, his first public address since the suspension was announced.
“When I was talking to the league, I told them, ‘Guys, I won’t make no excuses or explanations about the situation.’ That play is what happened and my biggest thing was that I put my team in that situation at that moment. It was a crucial time.”
Riders win the Labour Day Classic despite this headbutt from Pete Robertson on Zach Collaros.
— 3DownNation (@3DownNation) September 4, 2023
Robertson’s penalty gave Winnipeg a fresh set of downs deep in Saskatchewan territory and Brady Oliveira scored on a two-yard touchdown run on the following play, giving Winnipeg a 24-20 lead with 4:05 remaining in the game. The Riders eventually battled back to win but the league swiftly administered justice the following day.
Head coach Craig Dickenson had yet to see a replay of the incident when he addressed the media post-game on Sunday and withheld judgment. Having now watched the video, he acknowledged that it was a “bad play” and was not surprised at the speed with which the CFL delivered its verdict of supplemental discipline.
“We’re disappointed that (Robertson) got suspended but we’re more disappointed that he did what he did. That’s something we don’t approve of and we certainly don’t want that to be part of the game, not part of what we do either,” Dickenson told reporters.
“We’re very happy that Zach’s okay and that he’s playing this game. We want to apologize to him and Pete’s going to take his suspension like a man, and hopefully learn from that. Hopefully, all of us learn from that because that’s just not what we do and that’s not part of the game.”
While he stopped short of an outright apology to the rival quarterback, Robertson also exhibited contrition in his own comments.
“Am I sorry? Yeah, I’ll say that. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about me, it’s about the organization and what we represent,” he said. “I definitely want to apologize to Rider Nation and I’ll reach out to Zach sometime soon, I’m sure.”
Collaros, who has been vocally critical of the league’s failure to protect quarterbacks in the past, was extremely upset after the game and questioned why Robertson had not been ejected. Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea was similarly irate, calling the situation “ridiculous.”
Robertson, who is not on social media, said he has not seen any of the post-game reaction to his headbutt, but insisted Collaros was entitled to an emotional response.
“Whatever his reaction was, he’s got the right to have that. I can’t be the guy that’s like, ‘You can’t feel like that.’ Whatever he wants to feel or how he feels, that’s on him,” he said. “Like I always say, I don’t play to hurt. I play with high intensity and I play physical; I match physicality. At the end of the day, it was just a mistake that I made as a man.”
The 30-year-old pass rusher is more concerned about the effect he’s had on his teammates, who will now be without his services for one of the most important games of the year. He addressed the team ahead of practice on Wednesday to express his regrets, a move that was positively received according to Dickenson.
“Pete’s one of the most popular guys in that locker room and he came out right away, he knew he screwed up and apologized to the team. I think he’s done a pretty good job of making sure the guys know that that’s not the Pete that we can expect in the future and he’s sorry for what he did.”
Regardless of the magnitude of Saturday’s game, Robertson said he never considered appealing the suspension. He always intended to face the punishment head-on.
“It’s very important as a man,” he said. “How I handle everything, right or wrong, I take it as it comes. I don’t try to run from it. I handle it right then and just go and get it behind me.”
The Riders (6-5) will visit the Bombers (9-3) on September 9 at 4:00 p.m. EDT.