From the outside looking in, it seemed business as usual for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at training camp Tuesday morning.
But there was an unavoidable elephant in the room — the room being cavernous IG Field. The Bombers were preparing for Friday’s pre-season game against the Edmonton Elks without a collective bargaining agreement.
Following a four-day strike, the CFL and CFL players union moved the ball to the one-yard line, only to have a tentative deal voted down on Monday night by the players.
Bombers receiver Nik Demski said it was, indeed, a strong show of strength and solidarity.
"We all do training camp to get ready for the season, to play football, but I guess the majority of the players didn’t feel like it was a fair opportunity," said Demski, a Winnipegger in his seventh CFL season. "So, us as the players, we took a stand and here we are."
A sticking point continues to be the Canadian ratio. Under the old CBA, teams were required to have seven Canadian starters. The new agreement that was proposed changed that to eight Canadian starters, with one spot designated for a "naturalized" Canadian.
A "naturalized" Canadian is an American player who has spent three consecutive years with the same team or has played five seasons in the CFL, and therefore can count towards the ratio.
In addition, the tentative seven-year agreement has the added opportunity for a team to have three more "naturalized" Canadians play up to 49 per cent of snaps in a game.
Demski stressed the importance of retaining jobs in the league for Canadians. He said players in Canada’s grassroots and university programs strive for the opportunity to suit up in its professional league.
"... at the end of the day I just want this deal to get done. I want to play football, I want to play football with my brothers and again I respect everybody in this league.” — Bombers receiver Nik Demski
"Every American player that comes up here… I have respect for all of them," said Demski. "I think there’s some great football players here that come from both sides of the border and even overseas.
"To me, it’s like, ‘Why are they going to change it now?’ To me, do I think it’s fair? Not really, but I think I already voiced my opinion on this. I wasn’t the biggest fan, but at the end of the day I just want this deal to get done. I want to play football, I want to play football with my brothers and again I respect everybody in this league."
Last week, receiver Drew Wolitarsky admitted he took issue with the Canadian ratio change, however, he had a different approach Tuesday.
"The guys came out here and spoke about it, I for one was feeling a lot better about it," he said. "They’re not really trying to replace anyone."
Wolitarsky said he was surprised to see the deal get turned down.
"There’s a lot to it, there’s a lot more than people see and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes," he said. "That’s just every business deal and this is a business and you’re not going to win everything. You’re not going to get everything you want, just because you want it, both parties have to come to some type of agreement."
Demski said even though different opinions exist, he’ll look back at the bargaining process as a time when players rallied together to fight for a fair deal.
"At the end of the day we did this united, so you gotta be proud of that," said Demski. "That just shows a lot about the respect that we have for each other in this league."