There are several CFL players who have returned after a few years out of the league, including Adrian McPherson (signed by the Argos in 2015 after being out of the CFL since 2012 and out of football since 2013) and Kerry Joseph (signed by Saskatchewan in 2014 after retiring following a 2013 season where he didn't play much), but Wednesday's news that Khalif Mitchell is back in the league might be one of the most surprising stories yet. The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced Wednesday that they'd added Mitchell to their practice roster (not the pre-practice squad), and that's a move that's definitely going to draw some attention given Mitchell's history of problematic actions and comments.
Mitchell got into some on-field trouble in his previous CFL stints, including a two-game suspension in 2012 (one of the harshest ever handed down by the league and upheld by an arbitrator) for hyperextending an opponent's arm, plus a fine for a throat-slash gesture. More importantly, he got into off-field trouble; he was fined by B.C. in 2012 for racist tweets using "Chinks" and finally released by Montreal in 2015, not long after after Jewish organization B'nai Brith Canada protested his retweet of a Holocaust-denial documentary and described his tweets as "bizarre postings and outlandish conspiracy theories, comparisons of police officers to the Ku Klux Klan and hateful videos denying the Holocaust."
After that, Mitchell was fined by both the club and the league. He said he never disputed that the Holocaust happened, and issued an apology and pledged "to work with the experts at B’nai Brith Canada over the course of the next year to educate myself about this and other human rights matters." However, if you look at what he's posted on Twitter (@TruthWillFree96) recently, there's a lot of retweeted material in particular that B'nai Brith and many others may have problems with. Forward.com wrote about Mitchell's tweets in June, including a reference to the "demonic Star of David," and they've continued since then. Here are some "highlights" from his account from just this month, screenshotted in case he later deletes them (language warning):
One more for good measure, suggesting that Jews are...Satanists?
Then there's this one, suggesting that Germany was right in World War Two?
Or this tweet, suggesting he also has a problem with Islam:
Mitchell has also passed around Hillary Clinton illness conspiracy theories, Hillary Clinton robbing Haiti conspiracy theories, George Soros conspiracy theories, and perhaps most strangely, suggestions that Illuminati and Satanists are conducting mock human sacrifices outside the Large Hadron Collider (built by CERN, the European Organization For Nuclear Research):
Also, his response to someone who criticized one of his conspiracy theories suggests he thinks a conspiracy kicked him out of the CFL?
From a football standpoint alone, signing Mitchell seems reasonable. Yes, he hasn't been in the league since before the 2015 season, and yes, his last full campaign (with the Lions in 2014) was disappointing (he didn't play much, and only finished with nine tackles and one sack), but he's only 31, so he absolutely might have something left in the tank. He's a defensive tackle with great size (he's listed as 6'6'', 315 pounds), and someone who's played that position at a very high level in the past; he was a league all-star in 2011 with B.C. and in 2013 with Toronto, and he's attracted NFL interest in the past, playing for the San Francisco 49ers from 2008 to 2009 and actually turning down the Miami Dolphins in 2012 to stay with the Lions. His football resume's impressive, despite his limited recent success, and if that's all there was to consider, this wouldn't really be league-wide news.
This goes well beyond a football standpoint, though; Mitchell offended a lot of people with his tweets the last time around, and it looks like he hasn't changed too much. Conspiracy theories and Hillary Clinton-bashing are one thing, but the material he's retweeted about Jews seems particularly problematic, and something that the CFL may well have an issue with. It wouldn't be surprising to see B'nai Brith and other organizations come to the league with their concerns again in the wake of this. The Riders may be embracing their renegade status, but this seems to be going a bit far. We'll see if there's any discipline for Mitchell, or any memos for him to watch what he tweets.