Jonathan Hefney. (The Canadian Press)Someone should remind Winnipeg Blue Bombers general manager Joe Mack where he lives. Regardless of your opinion on the legalized Marijuana debate, last time I checked, it was still a criminal offence to possess pot in Canada. Apparently it's criminal in Rock Hill, South Carolina as well. That's where defensive back Jonathan Hefney was arrested for possession of Marijuana.
Mack's response? No big deal.
Everyone will have an opinion about the effects, negative or otherwise, of marijuana use. But when it rears its head in professional sports, "athletes as role models" is the inevitable direction these discussions usually gravitate toward. How unfortunate that, with a chance to turn a negative event into a positive message, Mack failed miserably.
All CFL teams, including the Bombers, are community minded. Players are invited to events, functions and schools in order to inspire, deliver positive messages, encourage health and fitness, and hopefully cultivate new fans. I myself attended many, many functions, during my playing days. The audience was almost always young, impressionable minds, eager to meet a pro football player. And it's in this regard Mack has lost not only his sense of "community owned" reality, but credibility as a respected leader of the Bombers brand. I understand the allegiance shown to a valued team member, but not at the expense of an organization's reputation.
I don't care whether Hefney smokes weed. I really don't. And I won't stand on my soapbox knowing full well we've all done things we're not particularly proud of. But as a parent, if you're a player visiting my child's school, it better be to encourage what most parents themselves are already trying to teach at home. And until marijuana is legalized and becomes acceptable recreational behaviour, breaking the law by possessing drugs runs counter intuitive to that message.
Joe Mack should know better. His "no big deal" attitude doesn't inspire me. In fact, it down right frightens me. If the events of last season are any indication, accountability is not one of his strong suits. Just ask Paul LaPolice...the tire marks still fresh from the bus driven by Mack.
And in this latest development, abdicating his responsibility in demanding it from one of his players, is by far the greater sin.
Marijuana doesn’t get a whole lot of attention when it comes to its use by players. But at some level, it has to worry teams. Categorizing it in the same language as steroids, doesn't seem all that appropriate considering the end results. A player's body can break down while using steroids or other performance enhancers. It tests the limits of muscles, pushes boundaries, and potentially can lead to an array of injuries that will sideline players for extended periods of play.
But marijuana really doesn’t have any athletic enhancing benefits. More recreational than anything, by many accounts it inhibits performance, impairs memory, limits conditioning, hurts coordination and could affect heart rate.
Can't Mack care about his player’s well being AND his ability to perform on the field? Are the two mutually exclusive? If a player smokes cigarettes, will he die of lung cancer while he’s playing? Likely not. But will his decreased lung capacity affect his performance? Maybe.
Much like marijuana, will a player who smokes weed lose the majority of his brain cells and forget how to run certain plays? Not likely. But should it affect how a team looks at that player? Of course. Especially in the CFL where teams continually struggle to gain market share in a hockey-crazed country. Add in the influence of American sports leagues dominating our airwaves, and caring about the image you project on-and-off the field becomes an important priority. Even in the CFL, that has a reputation of giving players with past transgressions second and third chances, a second chance and player redemption can't coexist without accountability, whether accepted voluntarily or imposed from above.
My indictment is more so levelled at Mack, not Hefney. He smokes, he got caught, I don't care. Regardless, he stands accused of criminal possession, something if convicted, could possibly violate his work visa and probably disqualify him from re-entry into Canada. And some think Mack made the right call by supporting his player's selfish stupidity? Here's a novel idea. How about a contrite Jonathan Hefney and an reprimanding Joe Mack? At least feign some outrage for the immigration officials that would like nothing more than to make an example out of a Bombers organization that seems content to thumb it's nose at the criminal and immigration acts collectively. Just because a few 'enlightened' people think it's 'no big deal', including Joe Mack, doesn't make it so. Put a player convicted of domestic violence on your roster and watch your female fan base turn away in disgust. Role models? Hardly. A made up term from other peoples expectations of what pro athletes should be. Held to a higher standard because of the privilege to play pro sports? Damn right.
Mack's comments describing Hefney's arrest as more of a "potentially societal issue right now" and "It, in and of itself, won't have any bearing on his status" sends an alarming message of tolerance toward breaking the law and doing things that don't necessarily lead to enhanced performance.
Hefney says he's innocent. Great, I believe him. Now sit his ass down until the issue is cleared up. That's what a real leader would do. One reasonable and thoughtful enough to understand there is a difference between loosing football games and losing integrity. The former, you can recover from. The latter, not so much.
Sandy Annunziata is a two-time Grey Cup champion who battled in the trenches along CFL offensive-lines for 11 seasons. Hard hitting and thought provoking, he takes you beyond the field and inside the locker room as he delivers a candid view of the game, the health of the league, the business of sport and the sometimes fragile psyche of pro athletes.