By Perry Lefko
Meet Marc-Oliver Brouillette, a football player who is also a philosopher and might qualify as one of the most interesting people you will ever meet in the Canadian Football League.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ safety, who prefers to be called Marc-O, is a vegan, animal welfare activist, lawyer and an avid reader who likes to share inspiring quotes on his Twitter account from the likes of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Mark Twain and James Altucher. He is also a husband, father of two, including a son born 10 months ago, Canadian Football League Player Association Player Representative and someone who spends a lot of time thinking and meditating.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
— Marc-O Brouillette (@MOBrouillette) August 8, 2018
“Football is part of me, it does not define me,” he wrote recently on his Twitter account. “I am not just a dumb jock.”
When I saw this, I wondered what he meant by that.
“When you make it to the college football level, a lot of times you meet somebody who has no idea who you are and what you do,” he said. “I would have said, ‘I’m Marc-O the football player.’ But I’ve been a vegan for three years now and become much more conscious and aware of all the different issues concerning the environment, climate change, animal welfare and all that stuff. I think I grew tremendously as a person over the last few years. I think we all continue growing as people regardless, but I think the last couple of years have really opened me up and made me realize I’m a lot more than just a football player. It’s not something that just defines me.”
He is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. He retired from the game in May 2017 – on the eve of training camp after having signed with the Riders in the off-season as a free agent. This came after seven seasons with Montreal, who selected him in the third round of the 2010 CFL Draft out of the Université de Montreal. When he retired, he posted on Twitter “it’s been a hell of a ride.”
But he had a change of mind and returned to the Riders four months later. He realized he still had deep connections; to the game, and the relationships formed with teammates and coaches.
“When that decision was made [to retire], I knew that my heart and my head weren’t in it 100 percent, although it wasn’t far off,” he said. “I made that decision because to me I would be doing my teammates and the organization a disservice if I went into training camp and wasn’t 100% committed to being the best teammate and the best player I could be.
“Between the time I made that decision and the time I came back, it gave me a chance to reflect on what the game meant to me; how much I loved it; how grateful I was for the opportunity for not only having played it so long but to still have the potential to continue playing it. When I did decide to come back I knew I was ready to commit 100 percent to playing football and contribute to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.”
Discussions with his wife, Brittany, played a role in him realizing something was missing.
“The easy guess was that it was football, but it was more than that,” he said. “I missed the camaraderie. I missed the daily interactions with all the guys in the room and the relationships that you build. It was hard for me to [decide to come back] because of the thought of moving halfway across the country – when I’d spent my whole career in my hometown; playing in front of friends and family; sleeping in my own bed at night and having my kids and my wife there… and now [I] would be moving to Regina and living by myself.
“But I took the leap of faith and the minute I set foot in Regina I knew it was the right decision; that it was still in me and I still had a lot to give. I still wanted to give a lot to the game and my teammates.”
— Marc-O Brouillette (@MOBrouillette) August 15, 2018
He left behind a 4½-year-old daughter, London, with his ex-wife and a 10-month-old son, Calvin, with Brittany. Calvin was born three weeks prematurely on the night before the Eastern Semi-Final playoffs last year when Saskatchewan crossed over from the West and played in Ottawa. He missed that game but played the following weekend in Toronto when the Riders played in the Eastern Final.
“The decision to come to Regina and to leave them for six months was difficult,” he said. “I’ve learned over these past couple of months when I’ve been out here that every day presents a new challenge. It’s about being emotionally supportive for my wife, and though I can’t be there physically to help I try to be the best partner I can be and be there for her because I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of stress and the things she goes through on a daily-basis – having to take care of the baby by herself. Her family lives in Kingston as well as Ottawa and she’s in Montreal, I’m sure it can be kind of lonely for her at times. It’s been something that can be challenging, but she’s done an amazing, incredible job and I think it’s actually helped us learn more about each other just going through this process.”
He is currently on the six-game injured list with a concussion, but is symptom-free and looking to return to the lineup. During the initial part of his recovery he gave thought to whether he would retire or remain in Regina and hope he could play again.
“I talked to my family about it and went on feel… I spent a lot of time thinking about it and I made the decision that for now I’m going to stick the rest of the year here,” he said. “If I get an opportunity to get back on the field this year I’m going to embrace it, enjoy it and take full advantage of it.”
For various reasons, he is not sure beyond this season if he will continue playing football, including being away from family, which he said will weigh heavily on the decision. If he does retire, he said he will be at peace with what he has accomplished in the CFL on a personal level and a team level.
“Might that change? Who knows,” he said. “I could wake up and go through my morning meditation tomorrow and then all of a sudden have my mind set on playing in 2019. I’m not closing the door completely on it, but I have put a lot of thought into it and that’s where I’m leaning heavily at this point. Given everything that goes into the decision – leaving family, my personal health now and in the future, career transition opportunities and things like that – a lot of things are pointing to retirement at this point.”
He has also decided he no longer wants to pursue a traditional legal career path, four years after he was called to the bar and worked for different firms and in different aspects of law.
“One of the reasons why I decided to come back and play football, is that feeling when I walk into the locker room every morning… that this is where I belong, this is where I should be and need to be and this is what makes me happy,” he said. “Not once did I ever get that feeling walking into my office at a law firm. It’s nothing against the firms that I worked at. They were great places, and if I had no other options I probably would have stayed there and spent the rest of my working days working in that role.
“But I’m looking for something that’s going to keep me excited about going to work every morning. Does that exist outside of football for me? I don’t know that for sure, but I’m not going to stop looking. I’ve begun exploring different alternative career options that still involve the law because I’m still passionate about and still interested by it, so I’ve kind of taken this season and this time by myself to explore those possibilities. There are a couple things in the works already that I’m hoping will materialize relatively soon so I can have some choices come the end of the season. I am also looking for a way to stay connected to the game.”
He also hopes to stay connected to the CFLPA, which is heading into Collective Bargaining with the League when the current deal ends following this season.
“I take tremendous pride in my role as a player rep,” he said. “The guys in that room are the ones that make this game so special; the guys that made me come back for another year. I want what’s best for them. Luckily through my educational background and my experience in the CFL, I think I can be a pretty valuable asset for our players and our Players’ Association. To have the opportunity to be voted by my peers to represent them is a job I take extremely seriously and that I’m extremely proud of.
“Going into this negotiation compared to when I first got involved during the last CBA negotiation, I feel our current leadership as well as the people we have involved helping our players from top to bottom, we’re now in a fantastic situation to get what’s best for our players.
“We’ve seen a lot of talk in recent times about player safety and about augmenting the salary cap and health coverage. It will be extremely interesting to see it all play out and I hope to be as involved as possible for the future generation players. Even if I don’t play next year and it doesn’t affect me personally, I have such a deeply-rooted love for the guys not only in my locker room but the eight other locker rooms across the country. Anything I can do to help them for years to come is something that I take very seriously and take great pride in.”
If he retires from the CFL, the game will be without the equivalent of Rodin’s The Thinker.
“I think life is just the journey of self-discovery and it’s in constant evolution and it’s changing, and every day brings something new,” he said. “Twenty-four hours in my world is a long time. I could stumble across a passage and then spend a day meditating on it and the next thing you know I’m willing to sign a new contract next year. That’s just kind of the way I am. That’s what makes me happy. That’s what makes me who I am. I don’t shy away from that.”
Marc-Olivier Brouillette is clearly not just a football player; he is a person who happens to play football and has a vast array of interests beyond the game. And yet he readily admits he’s proud to call himself a football player.