Maybe football players deserve rights too

The CFLPA goes on strike following labor disputes

Photo Conor Tomalty

Look, I’ll be the first to admit, my friends and family don’t rally for the Grey Cup the way we do for the Super Bowl. I can’t say that we order more pizzas than we could eat or more beers than we should drink, but we still turn our TVs to the proper channel and watch the game. While the CFL lacks the entertainment value of a Larry David crypto collab commercial, its collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations had more twists and turns than an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

On May 11th, the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association (CFLPA) entered heated discussions ahead of the CBA expiration on Saturday night. After a sixteen hour session on Friday, the bargaining teams still hadn’t reached an agreement! With the deadline looming, they met again on Saturday in an attempt to settle, but couldn’t get it done. Finally, the league just got up and walked away from the table, saying they’re done negotiating. Harsh...

The league’s commissioner, Randy Ambroise, knows this move looks bad. He knows that fans are going to be upset. So, in a last ditch effort – a hail mary, if you will – he releases a statement highlighting some details of the CFL’s offer. 

It basically says: ‘We love football, we love our players, and we’re giving them 18.9 million dollars in total guaranteed increases to the salary cap league-wide. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Also, look at us being transparent, we’re so real for that.’

The press release was definitely a step in the right direction with respect to being open about the sports industry, but as many fans commented, it wasn’t up to them to decide its adequacy. Looking through the forums, someone called Grover said it best, “I will wait for the CFLPA’s retort before making judgment, but on the surface, OK.” And I gotta agree with Grov. It felt as though the CFL was deferring to public opinion, rather than listening to those most affected by the deal – its players. 

The thing is, 18.9 million dollars without context does sound pretty, pretty good, as Larry David would say if he worked for the CFL. So it makes you think, why would the players rather go on strike than accept it? 

Well, for starters, the CFLPA had some serious concerns over how that amount was reached and believed it to be improperly calculated. Oh, and the league refused the revenue share to be audited, which is just suspicious. The overwhelming apprehension being that true increases in salary would be much lower than originally promised.

“Being known as a league that treats its players fairly should be important to the CFL.” — Dave Naylor

But, it’s not just about money, as CFL player Shaq Richardson writes, “[a fair CBA is] one that at least gives long term health benefits and disability benefits.” With a sport that throws its players around as much as it does the ball, a decent health plan is the bare minimum. With head injuries, upper body injuries, and lower body injuries, pain is truly the name of the game. For that reason, it’s so important for players to feel taken care of both on and off the field.

It’s no surprise that last week, 95 per cent of CFLPA membership voted in favor of giving the union permission to initiate a work stoppage. Come the deadline, that’s exactly what they did. Starting Sunday, for the first time since 1974, seven of the nine teams went on strike, with the exception of the Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders since Alberta labor laws would only allow them to legally join the effort as of May 18th. 

Fast forward to Wednesday night, a week into negotiations and four days into the strike, the CFL and CFLPA reached a tentative agreement. Although the new CBA would still need to be ratified by the league’s board of governors and players’ association’s membership, the expectation was that players would continue with training camp. 

Thankfully, the guys can return to their locker rooms with a clear—and better protected—head, as the settlement allows players to make gains on the health-and-safety front, additional coverage for rehab from injuries, and small annual increases in percentage of league revenue. It’s valuable to note that any ‘gains’ for the players aren’t a ‘loss’ for the league, as TSN Insider Dave Naylor writes, “Being known as a league that treats its players fairly should be important to the CFL.”

Super Bowl commercial writers couldn’t come up with a story as dramatic as this one. The CFL preseason kicks off May 27th with the Toronto Argonauts facing the Ottawa Redblacks and lemme tell ya, I’ll turn my TV to the proper channel and watch the game with much enthusiasm.