By Jason Menard
It’s ironic that during this time when the Canadian dollar is so strongly valued against its American counterpart, our football league has never appeared cheaper than it does today.
The Canadian Football League, thanks to just two players who have yet to play a snap in the three-down game, have gone from being a viable league unto its own to becoming the laughing stock of the pigskin world – a last bastion for the National Football League’s castoffs.
South of the border, Lady Liberty proclaims “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” But perhaps the misguided few in the CFL should paraphrase that slogan into a new advertising campaign.
Think of it, the Radically Canadian promotion is close to running its course, so why not try, “Give us your suspended, your exiled, your cheaters yearning to prove they’re above the law. The wretched refuse of your roster – as long as they have some marketability left.”
With the Whizzinator himself, Onterrio Smith, suiting up – or, at least, riding the pines nursing an injury – in Winnipeg, and Ricky Williams looking to join the Argonauts despite a penchant for puffing and passing polluted pee, the CFL has been downgraded to nothing more than a novelty act. And that’s a shame for the hundreds of hard-working, dedicated athletes who have represented themselves appropriately and integrated themselves into our communities.
For the next year, at least, the CFL will only be referenced south of the border in highlights featuring these two drug cheats. Their time in purgatory will become fodder for the talking heads on the nightly sportscasts. The toil of their teammates will be little more than ambient noise from which these miscreants exploits can jump out! Of course, at least the league will be mentioned south of the border more than once a year as a throwaway item during the Grey Cup.
But is any publicity really good publicity? Will the presence of these two running backs truly bring needed attention to the league? Or will it just be another way for these two players to earn even more attention in the national spotlight while their teams toil in anonymity. Does anyone really believe that people are going to look at the Blue Bombers or Argonauts as anything more than opportunistic jokes?
And that’s not all. The Montreal Alouettes have their own history of hiring thugs. Quarterback Quincy Carter is out of the NFL, allegedly due to concerns about potential drug-related suspensions. And this is also the team that gave upstanding citizen Lawrence Phillips another chance to rehabilitate his career. Of course, this is the same guy who helped his girlfriend down the stairs by dragging her down them by her hair, but that’s OK for the CFL.
Really, aren’t we better than this? Is the lure of potential so great that winning supersedes character? Of course, we know it does in the realm of professional sports. But while a league like the NFL, NBA, or even the NHL can afford to give thugs a second chance, a league like the CFL – desperately searching for an identity and credibility – can’t afford to be linked with these miscreants.
The biggest problem is that these are high-profile players, not simply special-teamers who can be buried on the roster. Smith, Williams, Carter, and even Phillips were marquee talents at one time who were brought in to dominate, not just contribute. In the minds of the league’s owners and general managers these players’ perceived value on the gridiron exceeds the cost to their reputation.
But what happens next year? If Smith and Williams are reinstated, what legacy do they leave behind in Canada? Will it be the rich football traditions present in Winnipeg and Toronto that Americans think about the next time they cast their minds to our league? Or will their names only illicit chuckles as the bush-league suckers who grabbed any attention they could, regardless of the cost?
The CFL obviously desperately craves acceptance as a big league of its own. The problem is that you’re tainted by the company you keep. And when high-profile players with questionable pasts become the face of your league, don’t be surprised when you’re not only looked upon as a joke, but some of those long-time supporters walk away because the league they love is no longer.
Is that really a cost the CFL is willing to pay?
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