Another season, another debate over CFL discipline. The league's disciplinary system, which results in fines for most infractions, has drawn plenty of criticism in the past. It's likely to do so again this year, if Thursday's decision to fine (but not suspend) Montreal linebacker Kyries Hebert for a hit on Jon Cornish in the Alouettes' 29-8 loss to Calgary last week. Here's the hit in question:
That's an awfully vicious hit in general, but worse, it involved Hebert bashing Cornish in the head with his arm. Sure, it was difficult for Hebert to track Cornish down from behind, and the clothesline he gave him may have been accidental, but it had significant results. Cornish lay motionless for minutes while an ambulance was summoned onto the field, and although he was able to walk off under his own power, he told media after the game "I was knocked out." Meanwhile, Hebert's action was clearly seen as problematic by the on-field officials: he was given a 25-yard penalty and ejected from the game. Concussions are a huge issue in this league, one that could potentially even lead to lawsuits, and the CFL has to take a strong stance against hits to the head that often cause these kinds of injuries. It's not clear if fines like this (the maximum amount, which Hebert was fined, is half of a game cheque) will be enough to stop this behaviour.
The fines do have an impact, especially in a league where salaries still aren't that high, but it's also problematic that players don't seem to be getting the message that hits to the head are out of bounds. Hebert told Herb Zurkowsky of The Montreal Gazette he's upset he's being fined:
Hebert continues to maintain the hit was accidental and, in no way, a retaliatory move for Nik Lewis administering a clean block, one play earlier, to the ribs of safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette.
If a fine was the lesser of two evils, Hebert lamented the CFL still was taking money – food for that matter – out of his kids’ mouths.
“It didn’t seem like I had much of a choice, as much as I’m being punished for an accidental hit,” Hebert told montrealgazette.com by telephone after the league rendered its decision. ...
“I felt what I did was right in my eyes, but they’re in charge,” he said. “My fate was in their hands. I’m glad my teammates don’t have to play without me.”
That's not a lot of contrition or repentance, and it certainly doesn't seem like the CFL's safety messages are getting across. Yes, there have been suspensions before, and some of those have been for acts perhaps even further outside the bounds of the game than what Hebert did; Hebert also doesn't have much of a reputation as a dangerous player. Still, the CFL hasn't always been that strong on its anti-headshot stance, and while the league's rules in that area continue to improve, stronger punishments to indicate any headshot (and especially one like this) is unacceptable may be necessary. Otherwise, the league's concussion problems will only get worse.