CFL misses the boat and the point

The NFL has the A Crucial Catch program, the CIS Women’s Basketball Coaches Association has the Shoot for the Cure initiative and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (CBCF) kicked off National 3Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Oct. 3 with the 19th edition of the Run for the Cure. It seems that wherever you look in October, you see the iconic pink ribbon that has come to signify breast cancer awareness and fundraising efforts.

Everywhere but on the field at a Canadian Football League game.

Due to an influx of emails pertaining to players wearing pink to support Breast Cancer Awareness week, CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon posted a response for the fans on his blog. In it, Cohon states that the CFL understands that fans believe the league should be stepping up to the plate, but “if [the league is] going to allow our uniforms to be used to support any single cause, we need to ensure it is done the right way,” that being a “comprehensive, league-wide public awareness and fundraising campaign,” which Cohon says should be implemented next year.

Now when I first read this, I thought that it was a fair decision. If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right. It would have been great if the CFL, as an organization, had collectively shown support for Breast Cancer Awareness month, instead of leaving it up to teams to take up the initiative on their own terms. Both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Calgary Stampeders organized campaigns to show support and fundraise for the important cause. Several players around the league requested to break from the uniform regulations and wear something pink during a game but the CFL defiantly stood their ground on the issue.

Winnipeg Blue Bomber FB Jon Oosterhuis, however, decided to wear the pink gloves that the team had been wearing in practice — which were later autographed and auctioned off to fans with the proceeds going towards the CBCF — in the Oct. 11 home game against the BC Lions. Oosterhuis has subsequently received notice from the CFL that he will be fined for wearing the gloves.

On one hand, Oosterhuis broke the rules and is, therefore, at the mercy of the CFL for whatever punishment they deem fit. It’s also a reasonable assumption that Oosterhuis knew he was likely to get fined, but decided to wear the gloves anyway in order to make a statement.

But on the other hand, he was wearing the same type of gloves that every other player wears, the only difference being they were pink. Save for perhaps his own sense of satisfaction, they didn’t give him any tangible advantage that would constitute a fine. To be completely honest, it’s not very likely that very many fans would have even realized or noticed that he was wearing pink gloves in that game if it wasn’t for the fines. You could even say that the fine gave Oosterhuis’ the attention that he was hoping to achieve.

Unfortunately, the issue has also pointed out some glaring issues within the CFL administration. Consider that in a game which featured a heavily penalized Lions team receiving two unnecessary roughness penalties, a taunting penalty and, later, a rough play disqualification in overtime (when BC’s Khalif Mitchell sucker-punched a defenseless Bomber player), the only fine dealt out is to a guy who is trying to promote a great cause during the month specifically devoted to doing just that. It boggles the mind!

Listen, I think that we can all agree that, based on the CFL regulations regarding the alteration of uniforms, what Jon Oosterhuis did blatantly ignored those rules. The league will argue that without this regulation in place, players across the league would be able to wear whatever they please to show support for whatever cause they feel strongly about. Teams will lose their uniformed appearance, as accessories distract the fans attention away from the game itself.

But the issue here isn’t that the CFL needed to avoid a dangerous precedent from being made by a player. The issue is how the CFL has gone from simply missing out on supporting the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation in a similar fashion to how the NFL has supported the American Cancer Society, to punishing a player for showing support for the very cause that they would have and could have supported if not for their incompetence and lack of vision.

The CFL missed the boat this year and instead of properly saving face, they’ve gone and dug themselves a deeper hole by fining a player for simply trying to make up for their shortcomings. Next time, the CFL should leave it to the teams themselves to impose fines on their players for breaking from uniform regulations, and focus more on promoting worthy causes instead of hindering them.