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Wiggle room allowed Canadian Football League and players to join hands on new collective bargaining agreement

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In the fall of 2017, when the Canadian Football League eliminated padded practices to reduce injuries and added a third bye week to give players more rest, you might have thought the two sides were holding hands and singing Kumbaya while the press release was written.

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“Today, we stand shoulder to shoulder on the important issue of player health and safety,” said Randy Ambrosie, who was then a newly minted commissioner. “We have developed and agreed upon these changes in the spirit of partnership and in pursuit of a shared goal: making the game we all love safer for the elite athletes who thrill our fans with their skill and talent.”

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That was Sept. 13. Just 20 days later, the CFL Players Association was much less shoulder to shoulder with the league and far more in its face. The PA blasted the CFL for leaving former Montreal defensive back Jonathan Hefney twisting in the wind following his career-ending spinal and nerve injuries suffered in a game against Ottawa in October 2015. According to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement at the time, players received just 12 months of post-career benefits and Hefney’s ran out long before his medical bills did.

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“It is more than distressing that a player is not receiving the medical care he needs to recuperate and to be able to get on with the rest of his life due to an injury suffered on the field, during a CFL game,” executive-director Brian Ramsay said at the time. “This should never happen and yet it is to Jonathan and other players as well. We want to work with the CFL to solve this problem, potentially with provincial workers’ compensation coverage, so no player has to appeal for donations to cover medically necessary treatment to live their lives normally again.

“New CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been making excellent progress in addressing player injuries with the recent ban on full-contact padded practices – this is another urgent issue that we hope to resolve working together with the league.”

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That about-face stood as a vivid illustration of their on-again, off-again relationship, which has never quite blossomed into the partnership the CFL continues to claim it wants and PA says it would be happy to entertain.

The relationship is on again, more or less. The two sides reached a tentative deal Wednesday night on a seven-year collective bargaining agreement that will bring labour peace to the seven teams that actually went on strike on Sunday. The Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders sat this one out, thanks to Alberta’s labour laws that denied them a legal strike position through Thursday morning.

Everybody will be back to practice in the morning, and we can all write this off as one of those unique CFL episodes. But the relationship between league and player took some hits again. The CFL played hardball with its first outlandish offer, one that included a 10-year term with no increase in the salary cap, no Canadian ratio, no mention of partially guaranteed contracts for veterans, though it had been a staple of the interest based bargaining talks all along.

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There was a “resounding no” to that offer, according to Winnipeg player rep Jake Thomas. “You were left wondering, what was this offer about?” he said Tuesday.

It wasn’t about a partnership, that’s for sure. It left the players frustrated enough to call a media conference, at which they pushed for additional last-minute, last-ditch bargaining sessions, which the CFL roundly ignored.

Instead, after five days of virtual silence, the league came out with a new offer, which wasn’t quite a take-it-or-leave-it proposition at all. It was just final enough to provoke a short work stoppage and make everybody wonder about the fate of that fabled partnership.

The players took issue with four key points; the term and timing of the deal’s expiration, a revenue-sharing plan sans audit mechanism, the roster ratio and a league demand for padded practices without consideration for an improved health and safety package.

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Article content

And so they were back to that place, talking about “making the game we all love safer for the elite athletes who thrill our fans with their skill and talent.”

In 2019, spurred on by Hefney’s continuing personal tragedy — he’s now incarcerated in South Carolina for trafficking cocaine, something he said was a last resort to help pay $250,000 US in outstanding child support and medical bills — the players demanded better. When the CBA was signed that spring, coverage was bumped to 36 months by year two of that deal, the same one that expired on Sunday.

Word is the two sides reached agreement to allow for one-hour padded practices, one each week for up to 12 weeks this season. The league wants to improve the product, and coaches will tell you there is a definite benefit to padded practice, especially for players who ply their trade along the line of scrimmage.

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Article content

The league surely had to beef up benefits to get agreement on that point, especially since the CFL’s own stats point to a 35 per cent reduction in injuries since eliminating the padded practices in mid-2017.

There was wiggle room on the other issues, too.

“When you look at those four points, they’re huge but we’re not crazy far away,” Thomas had said on Tuesday. “The biggest thing is just communication.”

And so they talked their way to a uniquely Canadian form of labour peace; still far from a partnership, but close enough to shake hands in time to watch the hockey game, and then fight again some other day.

[email protected]

Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

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Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.




Article content

In the fall of 2017, when the Canadian Football League eliminated padded practices to reduce injuries and added a third bye week to give players more rest, you might have thought the two sides were holding hands and singing Kumbaya while the press release was written.

Advertisement 2

Article content

“Today, we stand shoulder to shoulder on the important issue of player health and safety,” said Randy Ambrosie, who was then a newly minted commissioner. “We have developed and agreed upon these changes in the spirit of partnership and in pursuit of a shared goal: making the game we all love safer for the elite athletes who thrill our fans with their skill and talent.”

Article content

That was Sept. 13. Just 20 days later, the CFL Players Association was much less shoulder to shoulder with the league and far more in its face. The PA blasted the CFL for leaving former Montreal defensive back Jonathan Hefney twisting in the wind following his career-ending spinal and nerve injuries suffered in a game against Ottawa in October 2015. According to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement at the time, players received just 12 months of post-career benefits and Hefney’s ran out long before his medical bills did.

Advertisement 3

Article content

“It is more than distressing that a player is not receiving the medical care he needs to recuperate and to be able to get on with the rest of his life due to an injury suffered on the field, during a CFL game,” executive-director Brian Ramsay said at the time. “This should never happen and yet it is to Jonathan and other players as well. We want to work with the CFL to solve this problem, potentially with provincial workers’ compensation coverage, so no player has to appeal for donations to cover medically necessary treatment to live their lives normally again.

“New CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has been making excellent progress in addressing player injuries with the recent ban on full-contact padded practices – this is another urgent issue that we hope to resolve working together with the league.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

That about-face stood as a vivid illustration of their on-again, off-again relationship, which has never quite blossomed into the partnership the CFL continues to claim it wants and PA says it would be happy to entertain.

The relationship is on again, more or less. The two sides reached a tentative deal Wednesday night on a seven-year collective bargaining agreement that will bring labour peace to the seven teams that actually went on strike on Sunday. The Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders sat this one out, thanks to Alberta’s labour laws that denied them a legal strike position through Thursday morning.

Everybody will be back to practice in the morning, and we can all write this off as one of those unique CFL episodes. But the relationship between league and player took some hits again. The CFL played hardball with its first outlandish offer, one that included a 10-year term with no increase in the salary cap, no Canadian ratio, no mention of partially guaranteed contracts for veterans, though it had been a staple of the interest based bargaining talks all along.

Advertisement 5

Article content

There was a “resounding no” to that offer, according to Winnipeg player rep Jake Thomas. “You were left wondering, what was this offer about?” he said Tuesday.

It wasn’t about a partnership, that’s for sure. It left the players frustrated enough to call a media conference, at which they pushed for additional last-minute, last-ditch bargaining sessions, which the CFL roundly ignored.

Instead, after five days of virtual silence, the league came out with a new offer, which wasn’t quite a take-it-or-leave-it proposition at all. It was just final enough to provoke a short work stoppage and make everybody wonder about the fate of that fabled partnership.

The players took issue with four key points; the term and timing of the deal’s expiration, a revenue-sharing plan sans audit mechanism, the roster ratio and a league demand for padded practices without consideration for an improved health and safety package.

Advertisement 6

Article content

And so they were back to that place, talking about “making the game we all love safer for the elite athletes who thrill our fans with their skill and talent.”

In 2019, spurred on by Hefney’s continuing personal tragedy — he’s now incarcerated in South Carolina for trafficking cocaine, something he said was a last resort to help pay $250,000 US in outstanding child support and medical bills — the players demanded better. When the CBA was signed that spring, coverage was bumped to 36 months by year two of that deal, the same one that expired on Sunday.

Word is the two sides reached agreement to allow for one-hour padded practices, one each week for up to 12 weeks this season. The league wants to improve the product, and coaches will tell you there is a definite benefit to padded practice, especially for players who ply their trade along the line of scrimmage.

Advertisement 7

Article content

The league surely had to beef up benefits to get agreement on that point, especially since the CFL’s own stats point to a 35 per cent reduction in injuries since eliminating the padded practices in mid-2017.

There was wiggle room on the other issues, too.

“When you look at those four points, they’re huge but we’re not crazy far away,” Thomas had said on Tuesday. “The biggest thing is just communication.”

And so they talked their way to a uniquely Canadian form of labour peace; still far from a partnership, but close enough to shake hands in time to watch the hockey game, and then fight again some other day.

[email protected]

Twitter.com/sportsdanbarnes

Advertisement 1

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

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