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Just over two weeks after veteran CFL receiver Arland Bruce III drew a fine and a denunciation from the league for homophobic comments on Instagram about gay NFL prospect Michael Sam, the Montreal Alouettes have decided to part ways with him. The team announced Wednesday that they had released Bruce, and it seems likely that his comments were a primary factor in the decision, and perhaps even the sole factor. The timing is curious, though; if the plan after those comments was to cut ties with Bruce, waiting two weeks seems odd, especially considering that the team put out a statement the day after his comments disavowing them, but not mentioning any further punishment. Regardless of their motivation, though, their decision may mean that Bruce's CFL career is over.
It appears probable that Bruce's comments played a major role in the Alouettes' decision to cut him. His remarks created an international firestorm of attention, drawing articles everywhere from Outsports to Pro Football Talk, and they sparked plenty of anger at both Bruce and the Alouettes' organization, with plenty of fans calling for his release on Twitter. It's possible that the team initially elected to stick with Bruce, but that they got sick of the ongoing negative reaction and determined that he wasn't worth it.
There is another explanation, though, and one that perhaps better explains the timeframe involved. The team's release on the Bruce decision doesn't give a reason for cutting Bruce, so it's possible that the decision to release him now wasn't solely about his comments. Perhaps new head coach Tom Higgins (hired Monday) didn't see much value in a 36-year-old receiver with a long history of controversy, or perhaps general manager Jim Popp wanted to wait and see what the new coach thought before making a move with Bruce. (Keep in mind that Popp didn't get to hire Higgins himself, so that could have increased his desire to wait; that's already a rocky situation, and there was no need to complicate it further by cutting a guy the new head coach might want.) That might have nothing at all to do with Bruce's comments; if Higgins thought Bruce wasn't a good fit for the team, that could have led to his exile in and of itself.
Of course, we likely won't ever know the Alouettes' exact rationale, and it could be a bit from both of those columns. While Bruce has earned three league all-star nods and five divisional ones over his 12-year CFL career, and while he put up over 1,000 yards in six of his seasons in the league, not everyone wants a receiver at his age, and one who was likely being paid well given his veteran status and that he signed with Montreal as a free agent in the 2013 offseason. (He was also released by B.C. just before that, which likely was about age and contract status, not behaviour.) His penchant for odd behaviour (including Spiderman and Michael Jackson tributes and name changes) likely contributed to his departures from Toronto and Hamilton, too, and it might have been another mark against him. However, Bruce was still quite a productive receiver for the Alouettes last year, catching 64 balls for 851 yards (15th-best in the league) and five touchdowns. Cutting him solely for performance wouldn't seem likely.
Regardless of the reasons behind Bruce's departure, it may end his CFL career. He can still play, as he showed last season, and it wouldn't have been too surprising to see him stay in the league with the Alouettes despite the firestorm of controversy. After a while, the furor likely would have died down, especially if Montreal had added a team-imposed fine or suspension to the fine he drew from the league. It seems much less likely that any other CFL franchise would want the negative publicity that would probably accompany signing Bruce, though. The Alouettes were forced to endure the initial firestorm thanks to already having Bruce on their roster, but they made the decision to employ him before these comments. A team that signs him now would be hiring him despite his remarks, and that likely won't play well, especially considering that promoting locker-room tolerance and equality is a major goal for the CFL, its teams and many of its players.
While problematic comments haven't always led to players' exile (for example, Khalif Mitchell is still in the league despite being suspended by his team for racist tweets), Bruce is nearing the end of his career, and his on-field upside may not be enough to justify the controversy bringing him in would likely create. He has apologized substantively and said he'd welcome playing with Sam or another gay teammate, but that may not be enough. Of course, teams could pass on him for other reasons too; after all, Bruce has played for most of the CFL's teams by now, and he's rarely left on good terms, plus his age and likely contract demands would count against him. Thus, it's not that surprising to see Bruce tell TSN's Farhan Lalji Wednesday that he's considering retirement.
If this does spell the end of Bruce's time in the CFL, it's certainly an imperfect ending to an often-great career. He was a frequently-dominant receiver, and one with a great sense of personality on and off the field. He helped make this league extremely entertaining, and while his antics ticked some off at times, by and large, they were generally pretty harmless. The comments about Sam are more troubling, though, and it wouldn't be hard to sympathize with teams that don't want to touch Bruce at the moment; bringing him in in the wake of those remarks likely creates plenty of problems. Someone could still take a chance on Bruce, of course, and if he maintains his current apologetic contrition and his level of production from last year, it might even work out. It just may not be all that likely following these comments.