Nik Lewis fined for Twitter officiating criticism; good thing CFL fines only extend to players

Andrew Bucholtz

Twitter criticism of CFL officials is a common theme in most games, with journalists and fans often weighing in on problematic and inconsistent officiating decisions. An unusual voice joined that crowd Friday, though, and got hit in the pocketbook for his troubles. That would be Calgary Stampeders' receiver Nik Lewis, who's been out with a leg injury for several weeks, but was tweeting throughout his team's clash with Edmonton Friday. By and large, his tweets on the game seemed to go over very well with CFL fans, offering a player's perspective into the action, but the league office was apparently unhappy with what he said about the refs, announcing Wednesday that Lewis was fined for his tweets. Here's some of the discussion Lewis was apparently fined for:

There's nothing that really jumps out as massive criticism there, but sources report Lewis deleted further tweets about CFL refs needing more training and about how they should be full-time, not part-time. He wasn't ranting or personally targeting specific officials, though, so it's interesting that the league would fine a player for this. Yes, they technically can do so; the CFL social media policy makes it clear that comments on Twitter are treated like comments to the media, and players or coaches criticizing officiating has always drawn fines. The thinking behind that rule is understandable; the league doesn't want one group of its employees complaining about another group. However, in practice, this is somewhat silly. CFL officiating has its struggles, and though it's surely not alone in that respect (NFL and NCAA fans often complain about referees too), it's odd that players and coaches are outright prohibited from commenting on something that's always a key talking point during games. Why muzzle one side of the discourse, especially when it's a player making valid points (and ones that should be discussed) about the officiating system rather than blasting specific officials?

It might make more sense for the league to relax this rule and draw the line at personal criticism, not criticism in general. Complaints about specific rulings, the overall consistency of officiating and the CFL's officiating approach should be allowed; that's a valuable ongoing discussion, and players and coaches should be able to contribute to it as well as fans and journalists. Personal attacks on individual officials shouldn't stand, though, and that's what's really deserving of fines. At the moment, the CFL seems a little too fine-happy here, especially considering that fines are also levied in the case of much more serious things, such as headshots. Lewis was doing an excellent job of promoting the league by tweeting during Friday's game and interacting with fans, and he'll probably be less likely to do that in the future now that it's hurt his pocketbook. Meanwhile, it's a good thing the CFL only has the power to fine its employees for criticizing the officials; otherwise, a lot of fans and journalists covering the league would be a lot poorer.