Shawn Lemon appeals gambling suspension, returns to Montreal Alouettes

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Veteran defensive end Shawn Lemon has filed his appeal against the CFL’s gambling suspension, per sources, allowing him to return to the Montreal Alouettes. He is eligible to practice and play until an independent arbitrator rules on the matter.

The six-foot-one, 242-pound edge rusher was suspended indefinitely by the league in April for betting 70 Euros (approximately $100 CAD) on a two-game parlay, including one in which he played. According to the league’s investigation, the wager was placed in 2021 while Lemon was playing for the Calgary Stampeders. There was no evidence any games were impacted by his bet.

“The CFL has been made aware of the CFLPA’s decision to grieve Shawn Lemon’s indefinite suspension for wagering on CFL games, including one in which he played. The CFL is disappointed that the Players’ Association would challenge a decision so fundamental to the integrity of our league,” said commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a statement.

“The league’s rules prohibiting CFL-related gambling in 2021 were made abundantly clear to all players at the time, yet Mr. Lemon knowingly ignored those rules. The prohibition of wagering on the CFL by CFL personnel, including players, is critical to the reputation and standing of the league.

The CFL will vigorously defend its position at the arbitration hearing.

No further comment will be provided until a decision has been reached.”

The Als released a statement in support of the league last month after the suspension was announced.

“The Alouettes were recently made aware of the CFL’s investigation regarding an issue involving Shawn Lemon that took place in 2021. Additional information was made available to the club upon the completion of the league’s investigation in recent days. The team fully supports the CFL’s rules on gambling. As a result of this investigation and the league’s ruling, we have suspended Shawn Lemon indefinitely.”

At the time of Lemon’s offence, the CFL did not have a mandatory education course for players in regards to sports betting, as it did for domestic violence and performance-enhancing drugs.

In June 2022, the CFL sent an internal memo to all nine franchises which reiterated its existing gambling policies for players. The practice was prohibited under Article 10.08 of the CFL constitution, paragraph 1 of section 11 of the CFL by-laws, and section A of part 1 of the CFL regulations, all of which banned any member of a team from betting on games or consorting with a known gambler.

The CFL specifically cited its constitution in the decision to suspend Lemon, which read as follows at the time of his offence.

“If the Commissioner, after notice and hearing, determines that a person employed by or connected with the Leaque or a member Club has bet money or any other thing of value on the outcome or score of any game or games played in the Leaque, including inter squad or exhibition games, or has had knowledge of or has received an offer, directly or indirectly, to control, fix or bet money or any other thing of value on the outcome or the score of any such game or games and has failed to report the same promptlv in writing to the Commissioner, the Commissioner may impose any or all of the following penalties:

(a) suspend such person for a specific or indefinite period or for life;
(b) cancel such person’s contract with the Leaque or any member Club;
(c) order the sale by such person of his stock or other interest in any member Club and pending such sale appoint a trustee to exercise such person’s rights in respect thereof;
(d) impose a fine not exceeding the sum of Five Thousand ($5,000) dollars.”

The CFL recently underwent an extensive internal review of its gambling rules, updating language and protocols to reflect the modern era. In May 2023, the league announced a new match manipulation policy developed in partnership with McLaren Global Sport Solutions.

Players are banned from gambling on league games, betting by proxy, or providing insider information that could be used to wager on games or props. Unlike the NFL, CFL players are allowed to bet on other sports regardless of location or timing.

For the first time last season, all CFL players and staff were required to complete a 30-minute online education course through the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which highlighted possible corruption offences like betting on games. However, the CFL Players’ Association said at Grey Cup week they had been provided no official guidelines regarding the punishments for gambling violations, which remain at the discretion of the commissioner.

Prior to Lemon’s offence, there was no public record of the CFL ever issuing a suspension for sports gambling. However, some have suggested the league’s lower salaries could make players more vulnerable to external influence and incentivize corruption.

The NFL has suspended 14 players for gambling violations dating back to 1963 — 10 have taken place over the last two seasons. In every situation, the punishment has been handed down within a year of the bet being placed, while the CFL did not catch Lemon until over 2.5 years after his wager.

The league uses an algorithm-based approach led by data and technology partner Genius Sports to identify and flag betting anomalies, as well as an independent, anonymous hotline for players or staff to report suspicious gambling activity that was launched last year. Sportsbooks do their own data analysis to identify potential match manipulation, though the amount of that data shared with sports leagues varies significantly based on the operator and the local regulations.

The three-time Grey Cup champion has played 148 regular season CFL games with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Edmonton Elks, Ottawa Redblacks, Calgary Stampeders, Toronto Argonauts, B.C. Lions, and Alouettes, recording 237 defensive tackles, 101 sacks, 30 forced fumbles, and three interceptions.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.