After thinking about it for a couple years, spending a few months putting concepts together and a little bit of teasing on social media, I’m happy to announce the launch of Defend the R gear on Teespring!
Put together a little FAQ to capture how I got here.
What gave you this idea?
I’ve always been fascinated by and drawn to fan base-specific and ultra-local stuff that teams do. Whether it’s a chant, a saying or an inside joke, this stuff is the glue that keeps a fan base together. In the case of Ottawa football, we’ve got over 140 years of history that deserves remembering, celebrating or mocking, as the case may be. So not only is this a way to capture my own memories, but hopefully a way to encourage any and all in #RNation to share their own bit of history.
Is any of this stuff licensed by the team or league?
So, doesn’t this take away money that could otherwise be going to the Redblacks directly?
I’m glad you asked. This is a very fair question and one I thought long and hard about. Let me start by saying I’m the kind of guy who would rather go up to the ticket window and pay full price for a ticket than buy from a scalper. I’ve happily bought an almost unhealthy amount of Redblacks gear since the team returned to the CFL. I’m a season-ticket holder that (currently) lives five hours out of town. Supporting the franchise matters to me in a big way.
So this little online t-shirt shop is not about taking anything away, but filling in the gaps. It’s giving the die-hard fans something that’s a little more personal; capturing those parts of Ottawa football that aren’t necessarily mainstream, have been forgotten or frankly just aren’t suitable for licensing.
Okaaaaay…. What else you got?
Well, besides this being a fun and creative venture, I will also be donating a significant portion of the proceeds to a great Ottawa charity. Not exactly sure who that will be at this point, but lots of worthy organizations I’d be happy to support in this small way.
Men’s and women’s sizes available?
Yep. And sizes S-4XL for most t-shirts.
I see Teespring is a US-based site. Any issues shipping to Canada?
Products are fulfilled in the US, but they absolutely ship to Canada. Just select Canada from the Shipping Info drop-down on the product page.
You can expect a new design every couple weeks throughout the CFL season.
Are you open to suggestions? Can you arrange for custom orders?
Absolutely! Whether that’s improvements to existing designs or ideas for new ones, the goal is to have a collection of memories that speak to and accurately represent Ottawa football fans. And Teespring doesn’t need big numbers on this stuff, so a small run of custom tees can be done. Hit me up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or email if you want to discuss.
Alright, so with all that out of the way, I bring you the inaugural lineup of Defend the R t-shirts on Teespring!
The oft-maligned and ridiculed “better half” of the Ottawa football fan base. It’s all in good fun. But not really. Show your North Side pride with the ‘We The North Side’ tee.
Go to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and tell us which of these four tees you like best by Retweeting/sharing our post(s). Winner will be randomly selected and will receive their choice of Defend the R t-shirt, shipped to your door. Open to Canada and US entrants only. Winner will be announced Friday, July 19, 2019 during the Redblacks-Bombers game.
Good luck and thanks for your support!
Thanks for reading! Follow us on Twitter at @DefendTheR.
These are some restless times in #RNation, with the Redblacks on a 4-game losing streak and fans wondering if all their doubts about the 2019 version of the team are already materializing. Redblacks fan @Lordele shares his thoughts on how we may have got here and why no one should be surprised.
By Lordele Greenyer
Let’s be honest: by Day Two of CFL free agency 2019, any objective Redblacks fan pretty much knew where this team was gonna be this year. The success of this season’s team was determined when big names – Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, William Powell and SirVincent Rogers being the biggest – were not re-signed, and without any substantial names walking back through the doors of TD Place. At the time, General Manager Marcel Desjardins defended the strategy and spoke of prioritizing the re-signing key defensive free agents, which limited the team’s cap flexibility. Some bought it, others not so much. And while the first couple weeks of the season offered some hope, the season has not surprisingly been mostly pitiful.
So this is where we are: Two wins, four losses and not a lot of hope. But how did we get here? Or, WHY did we get here? I’ve got my suspicions…
Strap on your tinfoil hat and join me!
Theory One: Marcel Desjardins actually believes this team will be good
I honestly have a hard time believing this. MD has spent countless seasons evaluating talent and building competitive teams, most recently the championship team in 2016 and two others reaching the Grey Cup in FOUR seasons. Regardless of the strength of the East division, his teams were regularly at the top of standings. And while there have been some mistakes over the years (Eric Rogers 😢), they are far outweighed by a number of strong free agent signings-turned-CFL stars (or at least stars in the making). For Desjardins to suddenly lose his touch with player evaluation and roster composition seems unrealistic. Has to be more to it.
Theory Two: OSEG has tightened the purse strings
This one has been widely speculated on social media and among the fan base since the off-season. And since CFL salaries still aren’t being made public, it probably won’t stop any time soon. Many fans point to the cost of operating Ottawa Fury FC, and their relatively modest attendance (averaging about 4,500 spectators through 10 home games in 2019) as a factor. The 67s have also been suffering somewhat the last few years at the box office, though last season’s playoff run had to help the bottomline.
OSEG cherishes brave people with independent thought.
We believe in our GM & coaches…with good cause given their track record.
Your REDBLACKS have always spent to the CFL salary cap building a TEAM…just spread out a little different than some others. Bring on 2019 🔴⚫️!
I frankly just don’t buy it. My expectation is that Desjardins and the Redblacks have been given the OK to spend to the cap. OSEG CEO Mark Goudie said as much. The organization seems pretty sound financially and has many more outlets for revenue beyond butts in seats. I mean, they even found a sponsor for the 15 minutes the fans spend on the field after games!
Theory Three: Desjardins has his eyes set on 2020
I’m going full tinfoil here, but bear with me.
With a new collective bargaining agreement due before this season, it’s no secret a number of players made a point of signing contracts that would expire at the same time, in hopes of cashing in on an increase in available cap dollars. With the CBA ratified nearly three months after the start of free agency, however, teams and players had to guess at where the cap might land. Many clearly expected a cap increase and the league’s biggest names signed two-, three-, even four-year contracts with big signing bonuses.
Now that we know the big cap increase didn’t materialize (going up only $50,000 from 2018), teams like BC, Edmonton and Winnipeg may be hard pressed to be active in free agency in 2020, because they have a good portion of their money locked up.
In walks Desjardins. He let his big names walk and take big contracts elsewhere, didn’t really make any long-term commitment to any player, let alone bringing in a big contract. So they might be a “cap team”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to spend.
No question defence has been this team’s biggest strength the last couple years. And while individual accolades are great, defensive players seem to get paid when the team wins. Conversely, it’s harder to demand big, long-term deals when the team hasn’t had a great season. Should the season play out that way, MD will be better positioned to re-sign key parts of the defence to reasonable deals.
Now, putting these two concepts together, Desjardins would have the ability and flexibility at season’s end to not only re-sign those key parts of the defence (at perhaps a more reasonable cost) to contract extensions and apply signing bonus dollars to the 2019 salary cap.
Putting a couple hundred thousand dollars to work in this way could allow the Redblacks to be major players in 2020 free agency, while also better allowing them to keep guys like Brad Sinopoli, Lewis Ward and our growing list of defensive studs.
So is it worth it to write-off 2019 for the sake of 2020 or beyond? I’m not sure, but this is my best guess at how – and why – we got here.
With the Canadian Football League draft around the corner, host Jeff Morris is joined by Carleton Ravens football head coach Steve Sumarah to discuss, among other things, the great success his program has had in producing CFL draft picks – a total 11 since 2013.
Jeff provides us with a little bit (read: a lot) of history on the CFL draft, including some of Carleton & Ottawa U’s most memorable draft picks.
For those keeping score, the current standings for total number of players drafted sits at:
Ottawa U – 104
Carleton – 73
Jeff and Steve also discuss the East-West Bowl, a showcase of USports players eligible for the 2020 CFL draft, which takes place at Carleton’s MNP Park on May 11 @12:30pm. Get your tickets here.
This week’s ‘Mount Rushmore’ looks at the four best Carleton Ravens football coaches to be drafted into the CFL.
In the third episode of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast, we hear from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who was the keynote speaker at this year’s Carleton Ravens Football Dinner on April 5th, 2019. In a visionary (and pretty darn inspiring) address, Ambrosie not only speaks about growing the league internationally and creating new opportunities for Canadians to play abroad, but also how to “take back” the narrative and start growing the sport locally. Definitely worth a listen.
In this week’s ‘Mount Rushmore’, Jeff gives us the best two-sport athletes to have played for the Ottawa Rough Riders/Renegades/Redblacks. Tons of fascinating Ottawa sports history in this segment.
In the second episode of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast, Jeff welcomes another former Raven in FB Stefano Napolitano (2013-17).
Stefano shares a few memories from his time at Carleton, including being part of the rebirth of the Ravens football program in 2013 and the remarkable Panda Game victory in 2014. We also hear about Stefano’s experience playing pro football In Italy, with Rhinos Milano in the Italian Football League (IFL). Certainly topical, with the CFL’s “2.0” global initiatives having kicked off in recent months.
In the episode’s Mount Rushmore feature, Stefano joins Jeff and they each provide their four best players from the first five years of the re-launched Carleton Ravens football program.
Carleton Ravens alumnus and Ottawa media mogul Jeff Morris records the pilot episode of the Carleton Ravens Football Podcast – literally while on the road!
Jeff sets up the format for the show; Memories from his CFL draft evaluation (precursor to the combine) experience in Vancouver in 1984; Talks about the Junior Ravens football program; A look back at the 1976-1980 Carleton Ravens football teams, recently honoured at the school’s football banquet; This week’s Mount Rushmore looks at the four former Carleton Ravens who had the best CFL careers.
Tarps Apparel Co. is a Hamilton-based apparel company whose line of premium t-shirts celebrate several of the Canadian Football League’s legendary athletes, characters and moments. Co-owner Chris Hyk was nice enough to join us for a chat and give us a little of the back story behind this really cool venture.
@DefendTheR: Let’s start with a little background. How’d you get started and how long have you been in the apparel business?
Chris Hyk: 2018 was the first year of Tarps Apparel. I am an elementary school teacher, and am learning more and more as we go about the apparel business. My partner, Corey Stringer, comes from a background in the sports apparel industry, and we followed his lead throughout our initial season. We had a successful first year and are gaining momentum heading into our second year of a three-year deal with the CFL Alumni Association.
What’s the story of your CFL fandom? Ticats fan, I assume.
I am a lifelong CFL and Ticats fan, and season-ticket holder, thanks mostly to my father working for the Cats in the 1980s and ’90s in a number of roles, including being responsible for creating team-branded merchandise. Coincidentally, dad also worked for the Ottawa Rough Riders organization during the 1995 and ’96 season.
Corey and I both attend all the home games here in Hamilton and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The atmosphere these past few years at the new Tim Hortons Field has been particularly fun. It’s a really exciting time to be a football fan here in Hamilton, and across the league for that matter.
Where did the concept for Tarps Apparel originate? What was the process like to team up with the CFLAA?
The concept for our apparel line comes simply from us being very interested in the stories of these legendary CFL athletes. We were intrigued with the idea of how we could bring the stories of these legends back and introduce them to a younger crowd of football fan who didn’t get a chance to watch and follow them in their time or really understand and appreciate what these names mean to their cities. We want fans to understand the men who came before, who paved the way and who made football in that city what it is today. These legends poured their soul out for the game and their city, and did it with pride. We want both new and old fans to understand and appreciate these guys the way they deserve. And delivering that on a high quality, bamboo vintage tee seemed like the perfect marriage. The CFLAA and their president Leo Ezerins have been very supportive of our cause and have been nothing but helpful in the process.
Looks like you guys make some real high-quality shirts. Tell us about that and why it fits with your brand.
The use of a high-end tri-blend bamboo tee was conceptualized to allow fans to show their support of a legend and show pride for their city anywhere they go. Be it at the game, out with the boys (and girls) or enjoying drinks on a patio far away from the stadium, the shirts allow you to show hometown pride in a very subtle and fashionable way. Our focus was not so much on the football organization, but rather the player and the city they fought for.
We actually developed our own specific cut for the shirts, as we wanted a more athletic fit suitable for any occasion. This shirt is of the highest quality and comfort, and has a vintage, distressed feel that makes you not want to take it off. Both Corey and myself valued this quality, and we’ve gotten excellent feedback from our customers. We’re extremely proud of the way they turned out, and are continuing to tweak with new styles for next season.
You mention on your site that the sale of each shirt supports the players themselves. Without getting into any financial specifics, how does that work?
Our deal pays the CFL Alumni Association annually, as well as each player we deal with receiving a portion of sales for his shirt. With the backing of the CFLAA, we were able to work closely with each player – a surreal experience for me growing up as a fan and being able to watch many of our athletes compete firsthand as a kid – in establishing artwork, styles, etc. Designs are approved by the guys themselves.
I vividly remember the first time I was able to speak with my childhood hero, Earl “The Pearl” Winfield about designing his shirt. It gave me goosebumps, and was an experience that I won’t forget. It reaffirmed my love of the idea and why we had started this project in the first place.
How did you determine which guys to include in the line?
We worked closely with Leo (Ezerins) and the CFLAA in establishing a gameplan and an identity. We wanted players that left their mark on the team and the community. We also spoke to fans in each community to gain an understanding of which players they felt had the biggest impact in each community. We are happy with the names we chose for the first year, and are continuing to make connections with other players, getting them on board for this upcoming season.
Lots of big personalities in the players you’re working with. Any fun stories you can share?
Seeing the area codes calling my phone, hearing “Hi Chris, its Lui Passaglia”, emails back and forth with Chris Walby, chatting with Paul Osbaldiston about some of his favourite moments as a Ticat… All of these things made me feel like a 10-year-old fan again, sitting in the bleachers, eating a hot dog and wearing my favourite foam Tiger Paw. It’s an incredible position we are in to get to connect with these players, to talk football and to be able to share their stories with fans of all generations. It’s a very humbling experience!
What have the player’s reactions been like to the final product?
We have received very positive feedback from the guys! Everyone has seemed to be impressed with the designs and the quality of the product. We feel it’s a very unique angle in today’s athletic apparel industry, and the guys have agreed. We are very happy with the results thus far!
Tony Gabriel is obviously a member of Ottawa football’s Mount Rushmore, but also won a Grey Cup in Hamilton. What was the thought process in including him in your line?
Tony was an excellent player in both cities, but the idea behind his shirt was of course capturing that incredible moment in time. A play that brought an entire capital city together, and converted many people across the country into Rough Riders fans. Tony’s “The Catch” is synonymous with Ottawa football, and a play that will live forever. It is symbolic of the stamp he left on the game, and a very proud moment for Ottawans.
What’s next for Tarps Apparel? Will there be a new series coming for the 2019 season? Any details you can share about it?
We are currently working with new players, creating new designs, and looking at possibly venturing into other sports markets. Both Corey and myself come from hockey backgrounds (playing junior A hockey here in southern Ontario and still both being very involved in the hockey community here in Hamilton) and would love to eventually work with some legends of the NHL. But we are focused on promoting the stories of many more legendary CFL athletes this season!
Any Ottawa guys included? If so, who? 😉
Yes, we have been tossing around a few names for #RNation, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out our next legend coming out of Ottawa 😉
On behalf of CFL fans, thanks for this great initiative and making sure these incredible athletes continue to get the recognition they deserve.
We’re very proud and humbled to being working so closely alongside this great game, the men themselves, and the city’s and communities they represented. Were very excited for what the future holds! Thank you again for supporting and sharing our vision and respect for this great league and its fans!
Editor’s note: Our friend, fellow CFL fan (Saskatchewan, but try not to hold it against him) and favourite uniform concept designer Nelson Hackewich was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences at this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton. This is the second of two recaps on all the great stuff the festival had to offer. (here’s the first) Thanks Nelson! Super jealous!
Better late than never, right?
Grey Cup Saturday
Saturday started with the traditional Calgary pancake breakfast and the Grey Cup parade. A little underwhelmed watching the parade, so when the ‘Rider contingent walks by, I step off the sidewalk and join the parade!
After the parade, we all head over to the TSN booth to see the live hits of Grey Cup Saturday. While stopping inside to warm up we bumped into the legend, Pinball Clemons. And of course made the TSN coverage.
It was a short day at the Nissan Street Fest as we prepare notes and dig up dirt on both teams for the game tomorrow. Here’s what was seen, heard and researched:
The Stampeders were not to fond of the playing surface today at Commonwealth Stadium. Bo Levi Mitchell considered the turf to that of Ottawa’s in last year’s Grey Cup and Eric Rogers saying “If the game was today, we wouldn’t be able to wear cleats out there.”
When the Redblacks players were asked about the conditions of the turf, most said they were used to it, as they play on a similar surface at home.
Calgary will already make history tomorrow, playing in a team-record third Grey Cup in a row. Last teams to play in three GCs in a row? Montreal 2008-10, Hamilton 1984-86, Edmonton 1977-82, Montreal 1977-79.
The Redblacks are playing in a Grey Cup for the third time in the last four years, a first for any Ottawa club since the late ’60s (1966, ’68 & ’69).
This will be the fourth time Calgary and Ottawa have met in a Grey Cup, with Ottawa winning in 1968 and 2016, while Calgary won in 1948.
Dave Dickenson is looking for his first Grey Cup as a head coach, and trying to avoid becoming the first head coach since 1956 to lose three Grey Cups in a row.
Rick Campbell looks to get his second Grey Cup. He would become the 20th head coach to win multiple championships.
Teams head to head:
Calgary holds a 7-1-2 regular season edge over Ottawa since 2014; Ottawa has the 2016 GC win, however.
The last time these teams met in the Grey Cup, they combined for 852 passing yards – by far the most in Grey Cup history (#2, 777 yards in ’89)
Calgary outscored Ottawa 51-17 – with the gap (+34) made up of points off of Turnovers primarily (26 of Calgary’s 51 points).
Trevor Harris did not complete either game and has passing totals of 135 and 93 yards with 3 INTs and 0 TD passes.
Bo Levi Mitchell passed for 251 and 166 yards with 3 TDs, 3 gains of 30+ yards and one INT.
Don Jackson rushed for 186 yards (Max 102) on 30 carries for one TD. William Powell had 140 yards.
Grey Cup Sunday
Game day was full of generally a pro-Ottawa crowd, with CFL fans in sight from morning breakfast across the street at the hotel to the train to the stadium.
Arriving at the stadium at about 1:30pm (three-and-a-half hours before kickoff), we took in some of the tailgate parties, then headed into the stadium to walk about.
Two hours prior to kickoff it was a balmy 2° and the field conditions looked absolutely perfect. The Redblacks took the field for warm-up to a thunderous ovation, while it seemed the Stamps were only backed by those from Calgary and some die-hard western Canadian types who dislike our current prime minister.
The Reklaws belted out “Long Live the Night” and with an iconic Snowbirds fly-over, Grey Cup 106 was under way!
The game wasn’t much to write home about until Terry Williams had a record 97-yard punt return touchdown on a now slippery Commonwealth Stadium field, sending Stamps fans into a frenzy. If you watch the highlights, the most impressive part of the return (besides his speed on ice) is the fact he almost fell on his own. No doubt an absolute game-changer.
In the end, Bo Levi Mitchell and the Stamps got the monkey off their back, outlasting the Redblacks to win the Grey Cup.
Overall, Edmonton knows how to throw a party! From the street festival, to the $300k+ 50/50 jackpot, to meeting old friends and making new ones, there was tons of great CFL and Grey Cup buzz all week long, as it should be.
Can’t wait for Grey Cup 107. See you next year, Calgary!
Editor’s note: Our friend, fellow CFL fan (Saskatchewan, but try not to hold it against him) and favourite uniform concept designer Nelson Hackewich was kind enough to share some of his thoughts and experiences at this year’s Grey Cup Festival in Edmonton. This is the first of a couple recaps on all the great stuff the festival has to offer. Thanks Nelson! Super jealous!
It was a lengthy eight-hour drive through the frosted Canadian prairie from Regina to Edmonton, which gave me a lot of time to think about who to cheer for this Sunday in the 106th Grey Cup. People will tell you, “you’re from the west how can you not cheer for the west?”, or “the cup has to stay in the east!” But, over the course of the drive, I’ve come up with a few reasons which determined that, although I primarily bleed green, for one weekend in November, I’ll cheer for the Ottawa Redblacks.
Reason #1: Rick Campbell. He’s just a darn decent dude! Back when CFL Week was in Regina, I bumped into Rick almost daily in the Tim Hortons line at Evraz place, where we talked football and his love for Saturday Night Live. Plus, he is linked to not only the Riders, but the Eskimos through his father, the great Hugh Campbell.
Reason #2: The increasingly popular CFL adage of ABC – Anyone But Calgary. I think Stampeders coach Dave Dickenson hit the nail on the head in his West Final post game comments when he told reporters that Canada doesn’t like seeing them in the Grey Cup.
Anyway, onto the festivities!
Grey Cup Thursday
Edmonton has definitely come alive as the hotbed of Canadian football. Everywhere you look it’s decorated businesses, “Grey Cup” food and drink specials and the like. The city is roaring and ready to go! Everywhere you go people are dressed in all 10 CFL team (including the Atlantic Schooners) jerseys and apparel. Bars and restaurants are full and on American thanksgiving, where the NFL generally holds the spotlight, it was almost non-existent as the conversation turned to who is going to win on Sunday. I even heard a conversation about the Las Vegas Posse and Shreveport Pirates.
A smaller crowd strolled the street fest today taking in activations from Shaw (where you could sit in a Redblacks locker stall donning Brad Sinopoli’s jersey and equipment), get some s’mores compliments of TSN, or “Take a Kick at the Can” and see if you can last 8 seconds on a giant can of Twisted Tea (Mechanical bull style). Our night was capped at the outdoor street stage where Winnipeg’s The Watchmen played all their hits! Daniel Greaves (lead vocals) came out in a retro Bombers sweater and opened by stating “I wish the Bombers were here” and closed by asking the crowd “Who are we cheering for on sunday” with a primarily pro-Ottawa response.
Team hospitality rooms open up Friday with the highly anticipated announcement of the Atlantic Canada franchise team name, the CFL fan state of the league, a dip into the Shaw conference center to check out more fan fest activities, performances by Maestro Fresh Wes and Canadian supergroup Toque, capped off by a stop in Riderville and back to the stage to catch The Strumbellas.
Grey Cup Friday
After a quick autograph signing with Saskatchewan WR Namann Roosevelt and Argos WR SJ Green, Canadian hip hop legend Maestro Fresh Wes, Dressed in a special edition Eskimos Damon Allen jersey custom made for the 2018 Grey Cup, got our day going belting out “Let your backbone slide”. Taking shots at current Canadian rap superstar Drake, saying “I’ve been doing this since he’s been on Degrassi” was classic. Wes was followed up by Canadian super group and cover band Toque, featuring Todd Kerns (Age of Electric) Brent Fitz (Slah, Myles Kenedy, Alice Cooper) and Cory Churko (Shania Twain, Live), who played nothing but hits from Loverboy, Streetheart, Chilliwack, and Queen City Kids. True Canadiana and very fitting for the Grey Cup festival.
From there a dip into the Atlantic Kitchen Party for the 10th franchise name unveiling. Seriously, is anyone shocked? There were rumblings early in the week from a few of my media contacts in the league that it would be such. If the Schooners weren’t called the Schooners, it would be crushing not only to the people that host the Atlantic Schooners Kitchen Party year after year, but all of the people that have dreamt of this moment for so long. The font they chose was an interesting “UA Falcon”, which is primarily used by Under Armour teams. Using a white font on a grey stormy background also leaves a lot to be desired. Will they be black and grey? Will they be black and gold?
The night was capped by visits to the #RNation Party, where we bumped into the lovely Redblacks Cheer team, Winnipeg RB Andrew Harris and Ottawa mascot Big Joe (and his forearms). Then a short walk down street fest to Riderville, where we saw performances by the BC Felions dance team, the Alouettes Cheer team and Rider Cheer team.
Saturday, we take in the Grey Cup parade, team walkthroughs at Commonwealth Stadium, a tour of the Oilers beautiful Rogers Arena, and cap the night with a performance by Tim Hicks. Can’t wait!
On Monday, July 30, Canadian Football League fans across the country were shocked to hear of the release of Saskatchewan running back and 2016 Most Outstanding Canadian Jerome Messam. The release of the star Canadian came as a result of voyeurism charges related to a 2016 incident that occurred while Messam was with the Calgary Stampeders, but only came to the attention of police in April 2018.
The CFL wasted no time voicing its position on the matter:
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has informed all member clubs that the league will not register a contract for Messam should any team attempt to sign him.
The release and black-balling of Messam came less than two weeks after the same treatment of Teague Sherman, defensive back with the Ottawa Redblacks. Based on complaints from three females, Sherman was charged with two counts of sexual assault related to incidents which occurred in November 2017.
Again the CFL wasted no time, stating that it would not register a contract for Sherman, adding that “the Canadian Football League has and abides by a policy on violence against women and condemns violence against women in all its forms.”
These back-to-back stances on charges related to sexual assault against women have drawn a clear line in the turf: there will be zero-tolerance in the CFL when it comes to violence against women.
While there are always those who problematize a zero-tolerance stance (and this is not the article to debate that), many in the CFL community are rejoicing in what appears to be a clear change in Canadian football culture. While Ambrosie has gained respect across the league for his hands-on approach on many fronts – expansion, instant replay, player safety, fan engagement – it is possible we have unknowingly stumbled upon another first: Randy Ambrosie as the CFL’s first feminist commissioner.
The word “feminist” has become a contentious term in recent years largely based on ill-conceived notions of what it means to be a feminist. Fed by pop culture references that paint feminism as the bastion of angry, man-hating women who want to strip men of their masculinity, prescribe women’s role in society and in the home by denouncing “traditional roles,” and turn the world into a place where pant-suited women rule and men are secondary, our collective concept of feminism has deviated significantly from the truth. So then, what does it really mean to be a feminist?
A feminist is a person, any person, who supports equality between women and men. Simple as that. In fact, the concept that any one gender is or should be superior to the other, whether men OR women, is the exact opposite of feminist principles. The essential concept of equality extends to all facets of society; political, economic, personal, social and cultural. It doesn’t mean that men and woman can and should be exactly the same; they’re not. It means men and women should have equal freedom and choice to pursue opportunities in life without facing discrimination.
When it comes to issues of violence against women, including issues of sexual assault, feminism supports the inherent rights of women as human beings to live free from violence, harassment, discrimination and unequal treatment based on gender. Feminists advocate for women’s rights as human rights, and in fact also advocate for men’s rights and recognize the harmful effects that traditional prescriptive gender roles have on men.
So is commissioner Ambrosie the first feminist CFL commissioner? Well, not really, no.
It would be unfair not to acknowledge the huge strides taken by the league under former commissioner Jeffrey Orridge with the development of an official CFL Violence Against Women (VAW) policy in 2015. Developed in partnership with the Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA) and following consultations with multiple experts in the field, the policy applies to all personnel, not just players and coaches, and includes a provision that everyone in the CFL will receive annual mandatory training on violence against women and the issues surrounding it. According to Tracy Porteous, former Chair of EVA Canada and current Executive Director of EVA BC, “the leadership being shown by the entire CFL is to be applauded profoundly. Violence against women has long thrived in the shadows so when organizations, especially those led by men, step forward to ask, ‘what can we do to break the silence?’ it shines an important light on a subject most people don’t know what to do with. Through this policy the CFL is changing history.”
Many clubs have embraced and even gone above and beyond the call to provide the mandatory annual training, including the BC Lions, who partnered with EVA BC and the government of BC to deliver the four-year, hugely successful Be More Than a Bystander campaign; and the Toronto Argonauts, who partnered with the White Ribbon Campaign in 2015 to create Huddle Up and Make the Call, a program that raises awareness and issues a call to action in efforts to help end male violence against women. More recently, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers launched a three-year campaign in 2016, Break the Silence on Violence Against Women, consisting of a series of player-led talks and workshops on VAW in high schools across Manitoba.
While Ambrosie may not be the first feminist CFL commissioner, under his watch the CFL VAW Policy has certainly gone from a promise on paper to a resonating culture shift. The zero-tolerance handling of the Messam and Sherman charges are not the first signs of change since Ambrosie took office. In March of this year, the CFL voided Euclid Cummings’ contract with the B.C. Lions after he was charged with four criminal counts, including sexual assault charges involving two alleged victims. Ambrosie further launched an internal investigation into how Cummings was allowed to play the entire 2017 season with the Edmonton Eskimos, despite Winnipeg having previously informed the league and Edmonton of the charges. Interestingly, the CFL official statements concerning Messam and Sherman now include clear instruction that the league will not recognize contracts for these players with any team (presumably while legal proceedings are underway).
It’s possible the recent swift-acting stance taken by the CFL is a “once bitten, twice-shy” response by Ambrosie to what’s become a series of mishandled incidents and subsequent tarnishing of the CFL’s strong reputation as a pro-diversity, pro-inclusion league. Prior to the Cummings situation and after a great deal of fan uproar, the league stepped in to reverse the hiring of Art Briles by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in August of last year. Briles, a long-time friend of current Ticats head coach June Jones, was fired in May 2016 from Baylor University. While serving as the program’s football coach, an investigation discovered the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations against football players. One of the allegations resulted in a settlement with a former student who said she was a victim of gang rape. The suit claimed Baylor turned a blind eye to sexual assaults to build a strong football team under Briles. She said she was aware of 52 incidents of rape by more than 30 football players between 2011 and 2014. Here in Canada, we are by no means exempt from severe issues of violence against women.
In Canada, one in three women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. Of the 460,000 sexual assaults that occur in Canada each year, 3.3% are reported to police, 1.2% have charges laid, and 0.3% lead to a conviction. Of the 3.3% that are reported to police, 2-4% are deemed false reports (that’s roughly one per every 1,000 sexual assault cases). 99.7% of assailants walk free. To put that into perspective, if you were to take 5 CFL players who “allegedly” committed sexual assault, 4.985 out of those 5 would statistically not be convicted.
Faced with this challenge, the CFL, led by commissioner Ambrosie, has stepped up and taken an approach that other professional sports leagues can and should aspire to. The league has sent the message loud and clear that women’s bodies and autonomy will be respected, and that no player, coach, or financial bottomline is more important than this fundamental principle. Questions of guilt or innocence or of potential impacts on the livelihoods and reputations of individuals charged are not the issues at hand, and in fact, the CFL has shown on multiple occasions that players not convicted of a criminal offence are welcomed back, albeit cautiously. The CFL is making a change toward acknowledging a pervasive social problem in Canada, and Ambrosie is going a step further to put words and policies into action. He is doing the heavy lifting, the difficult dirty work, and certainly ruffling feathers and upsetting the status quo along the way. He may not be the first feminist commissioner, but I believe his recent actions make him a feminist commissioner, and a damn good one.