Randy Ambrosie defends CFL’s gender-based violence policy but acknowledges ‘room for improvement’

Photo: Bob Butrym/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie heard the concerns raised publicly by CFL staff members regarding the Toronto Argonauts’ handling of Chad Kelly’s suspension.

Kristina Costabile, the league’s senior manager of web and digital content, and Rheanne Marcoux, the senior director of branding for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, released personal statements last month condemning the Argonauts for allowing Kelly to be at rookie camp despite being suspended for a minimum of nine games.

“We have to accept the criticisms when they come. We want to create an environment that’s safe for all of our employees and, frankly, everyone in it,” Ambrosie told the media in Vancouver last week.

“Sometimes you just have to listen and you have to understand you may not agree with someone, they may not agree with you, but you have to do your best to communicate openly and honestly and I think we’ve tried to do that, but we would also acknowledge that there’s room for improvement.”

Kelly, the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, received the suspension after an independent investigation commissioned by the league corroborated claims from a former Toronto strength and conditioning coach that Kelly had sexually harassed her. The lawsuit she filed in February was recently settled out of court.

In order to be reinstated from his suspension, Kelly must attend mandatory counselling sessions conducted by a gender-based violence expert and undergo assessments by an independent expert.

Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons, Toronto’s general manager, defended Kelly’s presence at rookie camp last month, saying the league doesn’t have a rule against suspended players attending team events. One week later, following public backlash, Kelly withdrew from all team activities to “minimize distractions” and committed to “learn, grow, and better” himself through conselling.

Ambrosie insinuated that Keith Pelley, the new president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the corporate entity that owns the Argonauts, played a role in Kelly no longer being part of team activities.

“I’ve had a chance to talk to Keith directly. I would say there was no doubt in my mind in that conversation, Keith was very aligned with what we’re trying to do,” said Ambrosie. “He understood very clearly the principles that are the underpinnings of that program and that this is an opportunity for us to learn from this and do better going forward. I think they understood that and certainly, they saw that initial backlash and then realized we had to do some things differently.”

The CFL’s gender-based violence policy has never been released in full, though Ambrosie remains a strong proponent of it, claiming it recently received positive reviews from experts in the field.

“We have tried as well as possible to communicate what the foundations and what the principles of the program are. For some, no matter how noble or honourable your intentions are, they’re just going to disagree and that’s fine, that’s a part of life, that’s part of the reality of managing in any organization,” said Ambrosie.

“Just last week, I had a chance to meet a number of experts in that field and one of the very first questions that I posed to them was, ‘Is the program the right type of program? Is the orientation of the program correct, are the principles correct?’ And I got a resoundingly positive answer to that. This is the way really good, modern programs are run.”

As for Kelly, Ambrosie seemed optimistic that the reigning league all-star will take the discipline he’s received seriously and use it to become a better person off the field.

“My deep desire is that we give Chad an opportunity to learn from this experience, to go through a number of counselling sessions, to go through an assessment, and hopefully come out the other end better prepared to not just be a great player on the field — we know he can do that — but to be a real positive contributor, not just to the Argos, but to Canadians at large,” said Ambrosie.

“The process is going to play itself out, but we should know more in the days ahead. I’m growing more optimistic based on what I’m hearing that Chad will go through the program and have an opportunity to really use this as a growth opportunity.”

Editor’s note: this article contains files from 3DownNation reporter JC Abbott.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.