As a former player, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie knows football can be hazardous to one’s health.
That’s why on his first day on the job, he outlined player safety as one of his top priorities as commissioner.
“I do worry about our game because if you look at it (it’s) gigantic players running full speed,” he said in a one-on-one interview with the Green Zone.
With more and more studies being released about the correlation between football and traumatic brain injuries, the league is looking at all its options to make the game safer for players.
Two weeks ago, smack in the middle of the season, Ambrosie and the CFL Players Association announced that teams will no longer be able to practice with shoulder pads. That will limit the physical contact between players and in turn hopefully limiting the injuries they sustain.
“I felt like that at a moment in time it was the right thing to do,” Ambrosie said. “I think we needed to demonstrate again clearly that we want this game to be safe for our players.”
Ambrosie said he wished, however, he could have done it with more consultation with the teams’ coaches and general managers.
He admits that one of the limitations of his late appointment – the season had already begun when he was appointed commissioner at the end of June – was that he didn’t have an off-season to talk to teams about their concerns and priorities.
“I’m proud of the change, proud of the decision, but I’ve also learned from that and I’d like to implement a more thorough (process) going forward, and I hope to do that in the days ahead.”
However, changes to practices are just one part of the process.
The CFL has seen some hard hits over the last number of weeks, including two in the Stampeders and Lions game on Sept. 16. Micah Awe was given the league maximum fine for head-to-head contact with Jerome Messam and Roy Finch, but many fans thought it warranted a suspension and players should have tangible consequences for these kinds of actions.
Ambrosie said he’s still working on what the right answer to that question is.
“This is an area I want to spend more time talking to our coaches, GMs and team presidents about. I think we did a good job at the league office trying to be fair in adjudicating the difference between good hits and less good hits (but) it’s an imperfect science to be sure,” he said.
“I also, frankly, have not liked the idea that I’m the high school vice-principal in charge of discipline,” he continued. “I see myself trying to have a more enlightened relationship with our players.”
Though none of this is to say that if an egregious hit happened, he would hesitate to drop the hammer.
“I really believe this game can be played safely and thrill the fans with all its action and all the things that come with the game that’s played by these world-class athletes,” Ambrosie said. “We’ve done a lot, we’ve made the game much safer. I think we can continue to improve and evolve from here.”