Are you ready for some football?
The Canadian Football League kicks off its 2006 season this Friday when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Montreal to face the Alouettes at Percival-Molson Memorial Stadium.
While the start of a new CFL season is normally a topic of hot discussion for football fans across the country, the hype (or controversy, depending on your perspective) is particularly pronounced this year.
The CFL had a tumultuous off-season to say the least.
Commissioner Tom Wright, for instance, was forced to suspend operations in Ottawa once he realized the Renegades were being run into the ground—for the second time no less—by the Gliebermans.
Then came the big news.
Perhaps the most media attention the CFL has enjoyed in years came when the Toronto Argonauts signed oft-suspended National Football League running back Ricky Williams.
The signing sparked a wave of debate in both Canada and the U.S. as anyone associated with football felt the need to offer their two cents.
One of the most vocal opponents of the signing was former NFL quarterback, and now Monday Night Football analyst, Joe Theismann.
“I don’t ever want to be mentioned in the same breath as Ricky Williams as a football player,” Theismann said on ESPN Radio late last month. ‘He’s a disgrace to the game. The man doesn’t deserve to play football.
“He should go on with his life and treat his drug addictions, or go do whatever he wants to do.
“He’s been suspended from the National Football League on multiple occasions. Doesn’t anybody have any class anywhere?
“For gosh sakes, let the kid go do what he wants to do. He doesn’t want to play football.”
More recently, Alouettes’ head coach Don Matthews was fined $5,000 for criticizing both the CFL and the Argos concerning the decision to sign Williams.
Matthews accused the Argos of only wanting to sell tickets when they signed the man currently serving a year-long NFL suspension for failing multiple drug tests.
Williams, for his part, has kept relatively silent, stating that he’s just happy to be playing football in Toronto.
As a fan of the league, I think the whole situation is both sad and laughable at the same time.
It’s sad because the CFL offers a quality product on the field that’s both entertaining and fan friendly. The fact the game has been overshadowed by the signing of one player is frustrating for people who love to attend games or tune in on television.
It’s laughable for that very same reason. The fact Williams has garnered so much negative response from those surrounding the game for something as relatively benign as smoking marijuana says a lot about their values.
The truth of the matter is there are players currently playing in the NFL who have done much worse than Williams—and have received a fraction of the negative attention.
Players such as St. Louis Ram defensive end Leonard Little, who killed Susan Gutweiler in 2000 when he drove his SUV through a red light in downtown St. Louis plowing into her car.
He was drunk at the time of the accident.
Little received only 90 days in a work house and 1,000 hours of community service for the crime.
Apparently he didn’t learn his lesson as he was arrested for driving under the influence again in 2005.
Then there is Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back Michael Pittman. In 2003, Pittman drove his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and child, along with the family babysitter.
It was the latest in a long line of domestic abuse incidents involving Pittman.
Neither the Pittman nor Little case prompted more than mild complaints. People like Theismann didn’t bother calling into radio talk shows proclaiming either player an embarrassment to the sport.
I like Williams as a player and as a person based purely on his comments made in the media. I had no problem when he decided to retire from the game to pursue interests that didn’t include football.
My thinking; if the guy would rather travel the world, practising yoga and occasionally smoking pot, fine, it’s his decision to do so.
It’s not like there aren’t examples of other men who’ve walked away from football at the height of their careers (Jim Brown and Barry Sanders both spring to mind).
And it’s not like Williams owes his teammates or the fans anything. He’s a grown man who can make his own decisions. I respect the fact he chose to do something different with his life despite the fact people criticized him for walking away from their dream job.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone the fact Williams smokes pot. He broke the rules and he should be punished accordingly, which he was.
However, the CFL has no rule stating its teams can’t sign a player who’s serving a suspension in another league.
It was a smart move to allow him to come and play in Canada. The fans want to see Williams play and at the end of the day, the league would be crazy to ignore their fan base.
I just hope some of the zealots surrounding the game quiet down enough for the rest of us to enjoy what almost certainly will be another great year of CFL football.
Are you ready for some football?