The next time a player tests positive for a banned substance, their name needs to be removed from end-of-season awards ballots.
It’s time for the CFL to make that rule official and take the responsibility for making that decision out of the media’s hands. As a community of Canadian football reporters, we’ve proven ourselves as incapable of making it responsibly.
On Thursday afternoon, the CFL Players Association released its annual list of all-stars. The players selected the Montreal Alouettes’ William Stanback as their all-star running back. Stanback had a great season, and while the CFLPA leadership rejected the notion that it was a snub of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Andrew Harris because he tested positive for a banned substance earlier in the year, it can and should be interpreted as one.
Media voters weren’t willing to draw that same line in the sand and voted for Harris as a West Division All-Star a couple weeks ago. Apparently, the presence of a performance-enhancing drug in an athlete’s system doesn’t bother some of those who are tasked with telling the CFL’s story.
Thank god for the three Winnipeg reporters who chose to leave Harris off their ballots when it came time to nominate players for end-of-season awards. They – the Winnipeg Sun’s Ted Wyman, the Winnipeg Free Press’ Jeff Hamilton and TSN 1290’s Darrin Bauming – clearly saved us from ourselves.
It was a decision they shouldn’t have had to make and on Friday morning, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said the league would be speaking with the Players Association about whether players who test positive should automatically be removed from ballots.
“My honest answer is I had not thought about it. I don’t know if we had thought about it prior to what happened this past few weeks with (Andrew) Harris,” Ambrosie said. “Jim (Lawson, chairman of the CFL’s board of governors) reminds me all the time of all the work we have to do. This has to be something we talk about with the players this off-season. Should we think about it differently?
“I’m excited to watch Andrew play this weekend. He’s definitely one of our game’s stars and I’m excited to see him play in the Grey Cup this weekend. We hadn’t thought of it … it is definitely a conversation we will have with the players in the weeks to come.”
The decision to leave Harris off various ballots was never an attack on Harris as a player or as a person.
Ultimately, the three Winnipeg reporters made a difficult decision to do the right thing.
A week or two later, other media members took a different stance that suggests they take the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports less seriously.
The notion that some media members across the country felt they knew Harris’ character well enough to ignore the test results was truly strange.
They should have known better, but they decided that their own personal relationship with Harris was more important than the results of the test.
Harris is, by all accounts, a great human being and a classy ambassador for the Canadian game. But those voters seem to be suggesting that that is what matters in this case. If Harris had been slightly less accommodating with those media members over the years, would they then not have accepted the results of the drug test? That’s absurd, and damages the integrity of what sports are supposed to stand for.
Blindly choosing to believe a player’s explanation because of supposed personal trust built up over a career is a dereliction of journalistic objectivity. That objectivity is the very reason media members are relied on to vote for these awards in the first place.
The facts are the facts. Athletes are responsible for what they put in their bodies, and a drug test found that Harris had something illegal in his system.
Again, this isn’t about Harris. The decision not to vote for him for end-of-season awards had nothing to do with anybody’s opinion of Harris as a player or as a man.
The decision ultimately came down to whether we, culturally, as a Canadian football community, are willing to uphold the notion that performance enhancing drugs have no place in our sport.
Wyman, Hamilton and Bauming said ‘No.’ They weren’t alone. I personally did not vote for him to be an all-star because of the positive test.
There were other voters who decided the presence of banned substances in a player’s body should be overlooked when it comes to awards time as long as they personally admire the athlete.
On Thursday, the league’s players let us all know who they agreed with.
Now, it’s time for the CFL to do what’s right and ensure this debate doesn’t need to happen the next time a player tests positive.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019