July 27, 2011
This has turned into one of the most fine-heavy weeks in the CFL in recent history, with the league issuing fines to Toronto Argonauts head coach Jim Barker (seen above in a June 2010 game) and four players for their behaviour in Week Four. In some sports, that would be seen as heavy-handed behaviour by the league, and some will undoubtedly argue that here as well. However, when you look at these fines, most of them actually appear quite reasonable. Let's break them down on a case-by-case basis.
Dwight Anderson: There really isn't much to quibble with here. Anderson, a star Montreal Alouettes' cornerback, got his fingers in Saskatchewan receiver Weston Dressler's face mask while covering him in the Roughriders' 27-24 victory Sunday. Anderson said the eye-gouging was unintentional; you can decide whether you believe him or not from the video below.
Regardless of the eye-gouging intent, though, getting your fingers in someone's mask is problematic enough. This play very easily could have lead to serious eye or neck injuries for Dressler, and the CFL needs to take a firm stance against that. (Anderson later got called out by former Alouette Avon Cobourne on Twitter, leading to a bit of a Twitter feud between him and Anderson's agent, Darren Gill.) If this was unintentional, fine; the fine should be enough incentive for Anderson to watch it in future. If he wants to continue the eye-gouging, he could always follow another former CFL player to a new athletic venture...
Ejiro Kuale: This one's pretty obvious, too, as Argonauts' linebacker Kuale was ejected from their 33-24 loss to Winnipeg Saturday after delivering a blatantly late helmet-to-helmet shot on Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce. Kuale later defended himself by claiming it wasn't that late and that he led with his shoulder, but the replay suggests a very different story.
It's clearly not the easiest thing in the world to stop yourself in full flight, but that replay shows that Kuale didn't even leave his feet until after Pierce had thrown the ball. It also looks very much like he led with his helmet and targeted Pierce's head, which is extremely disturbing. Those are the kinds of plays that are going to get people seriously injured, and they're ones the CFL needs to clamp down upon, especially given the frightening information that keeps coming out on the long-term effects of head blows. There needs to be a league-wide shift away from targeting heads and leading with helmets.
Jim Barker: Barker's fine comes for criticizing the officials in the wake of that Toronto-Winnipeg game, and it's more debatable than most of these punishments. The controversies over tackling form, helmet-to-helmet hits and late hits on quarterbacks didn't start with this game, as those have all been notable CFL topics this year. The Bombers-Argonauts' clash took things to a new level, though, with at least two questionable hits reviewed by the league. The Kuale one resulted in an ejection and was later determined to be worthy of a fine, but Winnipeg linebacker Joe Lobendahn's hit on Cleo Lemon (which also appeared to be helmet to helmet), which came at the end of a 14-yard run and knocked Lemon out of the game, was not. Check out the Lobendahn hit and decide for yourself if Barker's right that there was inconsistency shown:
From this corner, Barker has a point. The Lobendahn hit isn't of the same magnitude as the Kuale one (for one thing, it came while Lemon still had the ball and while he was running with it; passers are protected more than running backs), but it's certainly still problematic. Lobendahn went helmet-to-helmet, knocking Lemon's helmet off (a recurring problem this year), knocking out a tooth and sidelining him for the rest of the game. The CFL concluded that wasn't worthy of further discipline, and I disagree with that decision. There is a difference between the Kuale and Lobendahn situations, but Lobendahn's behaviour is worthy of punishment too. The league needs to move away from this kind of play and make things safer for its employees.
It's worth noting that this wasn't the only questionable Bombers' hit, either; Odell Willis led with his helmet and hit Dalton Bell late later in the game, receiving a roughing-the-passer call but no ejection. However, his hit wasn't as late as Kuale's, and it wasn't to the head, so that can be defended a bit.
Moreover, the "intent to injure" comments referee Glen Johnson made about Kuale's weren't the best. As director of officiating Tom Higgins told The Toronto Sun's Bill Lankof later, the Kuale ejection could have been accomplished without any usage of the "intent" language, which is quite difficult to evaluate.
"I would never want to put myself in that position. I'd like Glen to have said to the coach: 'Excessive rough play. Disqualification.' Intent is not someplace we ever want to go. No one knows intent. You have to do it on the act. And that's what (Johnson) did … In this situation the coach himself said there was a late hit. What made it different is that we don't ever want to officiate on intent. But it was the act. The act of (Kuale) launching himself and going high. We felt there was helmet-to-helmet contact."
However, fining Barker still seems like the right move. Barker went beyond questioning particular calls to questioning the league's integrity, saying "there's no question" the league dropped a protective cone over Pierce and suggesting the Bombers' complaints about Calgary's alleged head-hunting drove officiating. "I think it was just a case of last week... we paid the price for it," Barker said. Those comments question the integrity of the league, and that can't be allowed. The league isn't out to favour any particular team or player; they do get things wrong sometimes, and they made a mistake in my mind by not punishing Lobendahn as well, but that's a simple mistake, not evidence of a pro-Winnipeg bias. (In fact, the "Bias!" claims are generally ludicrous; keep an eye on Twitter for a while and you'll find fans of every team convinced that the league and the officials hate them. If everyone's convinced of that, clearly the league's doing something right.)
Ricky Foley: Same story as Barker, except he went a little further when asked about a hit on Pierce that drew a roughing-the-passer call:
"I saw the replay and it's bulls— really," said Foley. "Buck and I have a good relationship. I wasn't trying to hurt him. I could have put my head in his chin, but I pulled up and they still called it. I don't know if the guy was trying to prove a point or what it was.
"Once I've planted my inside foot I can't pull off completely. The most I can do is take my head out of it."
Foley has a bit of a point, but the roughing the passer call seemed fair. Regardless of its merits, though, referring to an official's call as "bulls—"? You'd better believe that's a fine...
Korey Banks: This is the only one of these fines I'm not a big fan of, as it came for Banks (seen at right trying to bring down Edmonton's Jason Barnes in Week Three) celebrating an interception with a throat-slash gesture. I get that the league tries to be family-friendly, but I'm all in favour of excessive celebrations, and the throat-slash has a long and distinguished football history. Moreover, unlike hits to the head, it isn't actually harming anyone. Implied violence will always be better than actual violence, in my books.
On the whole, though, the CFL got these fines right. The league needs to clamp down on helmet-to-helmet hits and late hits; player safety is the most important issue facing the game today, and sending a message that hits like Kuale's won't be tolerated is a good start. It would be nice to expand that a bit further to hits like Lobendahn's as well, but we'll take what we can get. Criticizing the integrity of the league and its officials is also a no-no; complain about calls if you like, but do so in an appropriate fashion rather than suggesting the refs are out to get you. Hopefully these fines will serve as a useful reminder and accomplish some change. Players certainly don't have much of an excuse for late hits and head shots any more. Do this, don't do that, can't you read the fines?