We're only a few weeks into a new CFL campaign, but it's already time to call an audible. And a league that has been taking a rather passive approach to its COVID-19 protocols needs to launch an all-out offensive.
Some feelings might get hurt, some noses out of joint. Too bad. A global pandemic is no time to show weakness, especially with a fourth wave quickly spreading across the country. Society is making adjustments on the fly, as we just saw this week in Manitoba. Sports leagues now must do the same. Stand pat and you risk quickly going under.
Memo to CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie: No more Mr. Nice Guy.
To the athletes: Want to keep playing three-down football this season? Great! Roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated. Otherwise, show yourself the door and go find another line of work — a prospect I'd suggest is going to grow more difficult with each passing day.
To football fans: Want to watch a game in person this season? Terrific! Please show your proof of immunization before you can take your seat. Otherwise, enjoy watching the action on television. You might have to adjust the tinfoil hat you're wearing to improve reception.
Ambrosie recently told my colleague, Jeff Hamilton, he's not exactly breathing easy these days given the state of the world. I'd suggest some of the commissioner's stress is self-inflicted due to the pass-the-buck mentality that currently exists under his watch.
As of today, vaccines are simply recommended for players, not mandated. Thankfully, the majority has gotten the message, with 79 per cent either fully or partially vaccinated when training camps ended earlier this month. The wise ones are the least of Ambrosie's worries.
The focus must now shift to the other 21 per cent, and what their selfish decision means to everyone around them, save for anyone who has a legitimate medical reason not to. One only has to look at the situation in Edmonton, with at least 12 players testing positive so far this week, leading to the postponement of tonight's game against Toronto. That didn't take very long, did it?
While the league won't tell us how many of those 12 are unvaccinated, we can make some strong assumptions based on global stats which suggest an overwhelming majority of new cases involve such patients. We already knew Edmonton was one of the six CFL teams that began the season with a team vaccination rate under the threshold of 85 per cent set by the league to avoid financial penalties associated with games that can't be re-scheduled. Of those six teams, one was as low as 67 per cent. That's pathetic.
At this point, the hope is still to find another day down the road to make up the Elks vs. Argonauts encounter. If not, then every player on the team, regardless of whether they were vaccinated or not, is going to forfeit a week of pay. You'd hope that would be enough incentive to get it done, with the minority being vastly outnumbered. And perhaps, in time, that will be the case, but Ambrosie, the league owners and the player's association need to get on the same page here and send a strong message that would truly be for everyone's own good.
If a handful of holdouts want to stomp and pout and cry that their rights are being violated, they are free to take their ball and go home. Playing professional football is not a protected Charter right. As an employee, you are subject to the terms your employer sets out. It's really as simple as that.
For a local example, see the Winnipeg Goldeyes. The American Association club drew a hard line in the sand due to the fact they'd have to continue crossing the border and couldn't afford to deal with a 14-day mandatory quarantine for unvaccinated international travellers. A handful of players who had been with the club when they were exclusively playing in the U.S. for the first two-thirds of the season said goodbye. The rest returned north, along with a few new recruits happy to fill the vacant spots.
Speaking of league owners, the ones in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal need to call up their colleagues in Edmonton and Regina with one question: What the hell are you guys doing?
In case you missed it, the Elks and Roughriders are now the only two teams in the league not requiring proof of vaccination to buy a ticket and watch a game. The Blue Bombers were the first to take such a stand and should be applauded for showing leadership. And the Lions, Stampeders, Argonauts, Tiger-Cats, Redblacks and Alouettes have since followed suit. Better late than never, I suppose.
This is where Ambrosie needs to step in and make it a sweeping CFL mandate, or risk having games in those cities become super-spreader events. There have already been multiple COVID-19 cases linked to the first Roughriders home game of the year, and more of this is on the way if something doesn't change. We know the majority of society is now fully vaccinated. Why would anyone continue to pander to the minority continuing to make life difficult for all of us? Especially when the end result is potentially once again overwhelming the health-care system.
At this point, I wouldn't blame any fans in those seven markets who question the hypocrisy that says all spectators and stadium personnel must be vaccinated, but the guys sweating and breathing all over on the field below currently do not. We've already seen plenty of underwhelming crowds around the league, which tells me many folks are still uneasy about a return to so-called normal even if they have the green light to do so. Allowing unvaccinated fans into any stadium only adds to that anxiety. It must stop.
Nobody said this was going to be easy, nor was a return-to-play going to be without challenges — both expected and unexpected. An ability to pivot when needed is a must if this delayed, truncated season ultimately reaches the finish line.
As Manitoba's deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said this week, "The delta variant is changing the game." As a result, the CFL needs to quickly move the goalposts — or risk being run off the field entirely.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.