CFL fines four kickers for blowing whistle on microchipped footballs, including Bombers’ Sergio Castillo

Photo courtesy: Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The Canadian Football League has fined four kickers for speaking out against their decision to place microchips in the footballs.

On Friday, the CFL levied supplemental discipline against Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ kicker Sergio Castillo for violating the league’s Code of Conduct with comments he made in Week 1. Saskatchewan’s Brett Lauther, Ottawa’s Lewis Ward and B.C.’s Sean Whyte were all issued fines for violating the CFL Social Media Policy after further review.

As per league policy, the amount of the fines was not disclosed, though Castillo indicated to 3DownNation that he was fined $250. The maximum possible fine under the league’s collective bargaining agreement is equal to one-half of a player’s game cheque.

“The league made the decision and I’m just glad that we’re over and we’re moving on,” Castillo told 3DownNation after Friday’s game. “I kind of had a feeling (that I’d be fined). I knew if I spoke out there was a chance that I might get hit with a fine.”

The veteran kicker called out the use of microchipped footballs in the kicking game with an impassioned rant following his team’s season-opening loss to the Montreal Alouettes. He blamed the new technology for his poor accuracy in the game after he went one-for-three on his field goal attempts, missing wide from 38 and 40 yards out.

The 33-year-old, who connected on a team-record 90.2 percent of his field goals last year, claimed that his accuracy was reduced to under 60 percent when using the chipped balls in training camp and that they rendered it impossible for him to aim.

Lauther, who is the vice-president of the CFL Players’ Association, released a statement on behalf of all specialists condemning the use of microchipped balls following the game. He cited concerns over accuracy, accounts of players bruising their feet, and noted that the USFL shelved their chipped balls after two weeks in 2021 due to similar problems.

Lauther said the Players’ Association exhausted all avenues to stop the introduction of footballs on special teams after kickers voted 10-1 against them. He also indicated the CFL didn’t confirm the chipped balls would be used until the night before the season opener.

Both Ward and Whyte also took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to address the issue. The former likened the new technology to having a “wheel imbalance” in the football, while the latter stated that it had “a negative impact on the integrity of the game.”

“We all knew going into this there might be a chance (we’d get fined) and we took a hit but I think collectively, we’re getting what we want, which is to put a product on the field: the CFL and the players,” said Castillo.

The public outcry by specialists caused a swift response from the league the following day, as they announced that microchipped footballs would become optional in the kicking game for the remainder of the 2024 season. However, commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement that the issue would be revisited in 2025, citing “no definitive evidence to suggest their use impacts performance in any manner.”

The CFL began inserting microchips into their footballs for select games in 2023, though they weren’t used in the kicking game. The hardware helps generate real-time advanced statistics through Genius Sports, the CFL’s data and technology partner, and remains mandatory on offence and defence.

It is unclear why it took the league over a week to levy the fines against the specialists, despite immediately bowing to their demands.

The league also handed down punishments to two players for their conduct in Week 2, including Ottawa punter Richie Leone. The 32-year-old, who also made critical comments about the chipped footballs on social media but was not disciplined for them, was fined for a tourist hit on Winnipeg defensive back Marquise Bridges.

Saskatchewan defensive lineman Micah Johnson was also slapped with a maximum fine for violating the CFL Code of Conduct and verbal abuse of an official.