Adam Braidwood, Yonus Davis and the CFL’s reputation

The Edmonton Eskimos finally released Canadian defensive lineman Adam Braidwood Thursday, months after he was charged with everything from kidnapping to sexual assault to aggravated assault over two separate incidents in November and January. The charges Braidwood faces are very different from the ones B.C. running back/kick returner Yonus Davis faces after allegedly receiving a FedEx delivery of 67 pounds of ecstasy and being charged with possession with intent to distribute, but the outcome may be the same. As Lowell Ullrich wrote about Braidwood's release and the chances something similar may happen to Davis, "That one was inevitable. This seems like it could eventually play out the same way."

You can make a compelling case that the Eskimos were too slow if anything to react to the Braidwood situation. Even their statement today from general manager Eric Tillman mentioned that the release was "mutual", "not being made to pass judgment on the legal process" and made because Braidwood's "total focus is on the legal case". That's all well and good, and Braidwood (pictured up top trying to bring down Toronto's Michael Bishop in 2007) absolutely deserves a fair trial and should not be punished by the justice system until found guilty in a court of law (which won't be for a while if it ever does happen, as his trial isn't expected to start until 2012). However, that doesn't mean that he has the right to play professional football until found guilty, and it doesn't mean the Eskimos have to keep him around until then.

In many quarters, it's easy to laugh at the idea of athletes as role models, but the truth is, the CFL has often focused on presenting a family-friendly image and encouraging players to get involved with their communities. Players and teams have done everything fromfood drives to helping sick children to revitalizing high school football programs, and those actions have helped build the CFL's reputation as a league where the players and teams care about their communities. It only takes one bad apple to ruin the whole bunch, though, and every story that comes out about the likes of Braidwood and Davis damages the reputation the CFL's worked so hard to create. It shouldn't necessarily, as the vast majority of CFL players are awesome people who do great things in their communities, but some people do judge groups based on the actions of a few, so the actions of players like Braidwood and Davis matter.

These cases are obviously touchy subjects, and there's a tough line to walk. I would never argue that the justice system is perfect, as many people are falsely accused each year and some are falsely convicted. Dismissing a player as soon as accusations emerge isn't particularly fair, and it's not an approach I'd recommend. Even if someone pleads guilty to a serious crime, that doesn't necessarily mean they should be banned from the league; I wrote last year that Edmonton was smart to hire Tillman despite his previous guilty plea to sexual assault (for which he received an absolute discharge). The ideas of redemption and second chances are powerful ones, and they're ones that shouldn't be dismissed out of hand.

However, in each case involving a run-in with the law, the team involved has to make a difficult decision on whether to keep the player, coach or executive around. In my mind, that decision has to be based on the severity of the incident, any potential extenuating circumstances, and if the person involved seems likely to reoffend. In Tillman's case, it was a serious incident and charge (grabbing a babysitter), but there were other factors involved, and the justice system gave him an absolute discharge. There may be other factors involved in the Braidwood and Davis cases too, and we don't know how the courts will eventually rule, but the charges against them are extremely serious and carry substantially more potential jail time; also, there's been little to no information thus far in their favour.

One case in the past that may prove instructive is that of Josh Boden. The Lions' receiver had plenty of potential, but was released shortly after being charged with domestic assault and robbery in April 2008. Those charges were later dropped, but B.C. refused to take him back, based partly at least on their impression of him. He signed with Hamilton and didn't last long there; since leaving the CFL, he's ran into further trouble with the law and has been accused of sexual assault on several occasions. In that case, it certainly appears they made the right move by acting to preserve their reputation before the system ran its course.

The justice system will eventually determine if Braidwood and Davis are guilty or not, and that's a good thing; whether someone goes to jail shouldn't be based merely on if police charge them. Whether they remain a member of a CFL team is a different matter, though, and it's one that doesn't require as high of a burden of proof. The issue there isn't if the courts are going to eventually convict them; it's if the team feels they are a good representative of what that club wants to be known for. Each case needs to be considered on its own merits, and teams absolutely should gather as much information as possible (including the player's side of the story) before making rash decisions, but teams, not courts, decide who gets to be on their roster, and CFL teams do so from a perspective of who's likely to help their team's results on the field and their team's reputation off the field. In Braidwood's case, that's what likely led to his release long before his trial even starts; we'll see if the same thing happens with Davis.