The first priority for players in the Canadian Football League is safety, but in a broader perspective it is about communication from the association that represents them.
The CFL is on solid footing with its nine clubs and owners, and the same could be said about the CFLPA and its membership. There is clearly a good relationship between the CFLPA, the CFL head office and the club owners that they are partners in the protective good of the game and endurance of the product on the field.
In April, 2016, the CFLPA announced Jeff Keeping as the new President. That came in conjunction with the hiring of Brian Ramsay as Executive Director.
It could best be said that what has transpired is an evolution as opposed to a revolution.
Increased communication was identified as something that needed to be done between the CFLPA executive and its members, but that also applied to other stakeholders such as the CFL head office, the clubs, the media and fans.
What the CFLPA wants to do is ensure player safety by working with the league and the clubs. Starting last year, new health and safety measures were added, including employing an injury spotter that monitors every game and has the ability to have a player removed from the field of player if it there are concerns. This past September, it was announced the league would expand the season from 20 weeks to 21 weeks, adding a third bye for each team. In addition, shoulder pads were eliminated immediately for all practices. Starting next season, shoulder pads will be eliminated from all practices after training camp.
“Player safety always has to be the number one issue,” Ramsay told me before the CFLPA’s State of the Union address on Friday in Ottawa leading into this year’s Grey Cup. “Our game is a violent game and that’s okay, but it’s our job collectively to mitigate as much risk as we can if we want to sustain the game as long as we can. I think it’s important at this level we set the parameters so we continue to have enrolment at the grassroots level and our game continues to flourish. It’s an obligation at this level to set those certain standards. But in most games the health and safety of the individuals is first and foremost.”
Ramsay said it is okay to differing points of view between the CFLPA and the CFL head office and the clubs because by nature the relationship is adversarial. This is where increased communication becomes paramount.
“We are working under the philosophy that good, bad or ugly, we’re always going to talk,” Ramsay said. “They might be short conversations and we might not be on the same page or see it the same way, but that’s okay as long as we keep talking. It’s when we’re not talking it hurts the game, it hurts the players, it hurts the club, it hurts everybody.
“We’ve got to be professional enough and I can tell you it’s being reciprocated by the league that we have that working relationship. I know what we’re doing now and I know what we’re trying to do moving forward and I know what we’re going to continue to work on it. It’s a relationship that needs to be on solid footing in order to weather the tough times and in order to accomplish things that are in the greater good of everybody in certain times. The league office has a set of bosses, but so do we. We have 600 bosses.”
One thing that is unique to the relationship between the CFLPA and the CFL head office is having a CFL Commissioner with onetime ties to the CFLPA. New CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who played for nine years in the CFL, served two years as the CFLPA’s Secretary before moving on to a career in business.
“We have a Commissioner that has very strong experience in the board room but also strong experience on the field, and to have that is definitely a positive for the CFL game,” Ramsay said. “It’s positive in the sense we’re discussing issues or things that we’re bringing with the players’ voice. It’s helpful because immediately there is an understanding because of his experiences. That’s definitely a positive, but ultimately we know who he’s reporting to and who he is working for. There’s probably a greater understanding than we’ve had in that role, but at the end of the day we know that he has a job to do as well.”
The CFLPA has broadened its communication with a newsletter to its members about important topics so they are informed and aware of critical issues. In turn, the players are being asked for feedback.
“It makes sense that we’re working on behalf of them on issues that pertain to them,” Ramsay said. “Whether it is about bargaining or every day issues, that feedback needs to come from the players and we need to seek it. We’re trying to do it as best as we can and it creates that two-way feedback.”