CFL putting its players first by taking off pads in practice
It takes Peter Dyakowski two minutes to drive to work, or eight minutes to walk, unless he gets stopped by a train at the crossing. The weather hasn’t turned yet in Regina, but as the veteran offensive lineman puts it, “at this point of the season, I’m not making the walk that often.”
Dyakowski has been in the Canadian Football League for 10 years. That’s a lot of football.
This week the Canadian Football League did something different. In an agreement with with the CFLPA, it eliminated padded practices during the season. That’s 17 full-contact practices per year gone, and any damage they did gone with them. The league also extended its regular season from 20 to 21 weeks, without playing more games. Again, more time to recover. The coaches won’t be happy. The players are.
“I knew there were going to be people in our system who will not be completely welcoming of this,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, who was an offensive lineman in the league for nine years.
He had five knee surgeries, has bad hands from a multitude of breaks, and sometimes wakes up with a full-body ache.
“But the bigger picture is we all share the responsibility for the players, and their safety. It’s just the right thing to do.”
This is not just about concussions, though that’s a part of football; it’s that football smashes more than just the brain. The next question is: Will this move echo? There has been a push to reduce padded practices at various levels of American football, and the NFL has been down to 14 per season since 2011. Could those vanish, too? It would require valuing player safety over football ops, who have already blamed previous reductions for poorer play, especially on the offensive line, which is approaching crisis levels in some places. Tough sledding.
Of course, some people claim pass-friendly college systems are more to blame. But Dyakowski practised in pads at LSU three times a week, and twice a week for the bulk of his career in the CFL, which he reckons is the approximate equivalent to an extra full game’s worth of contact.
Now, that’s gone.
“It’s massive,” he says. “We’ve made steps towards it, but this has been a huge leap. It would take a lot of research to determine if our game is safer than the NFL. But with this, certainly, our league is the safe one to play in. To try to ignore things . . . is to guarantee a slow death for the game. So we’ve been very proactive here, and there’s still improvements to be made.”
Look, nobody thinks football can be made safe. They can run infomercials for space-age helmets, but every one will be the tunnel Wile E. Coyote paints, then runs into, on the mesa wall. They can promote safer tackling, suspend after headshots, tinker with the rules. But football will still be breathtaking, televised kinetic damage, from the brain on down. Even in Canada. The question should be, how safe can you make it? Some people bleat about a war on football in the U.S., because stupid ideas sometimes work in America. But if anybody is going to kill football, it’s the insurance companies that deal with high schools, or moms. That’s it. The more realistic goal should be simple humanity: lifetime medical coverage for NFL players, and reducing contact as much as possible. Football is very, very bad for the people who play it. The least you can do is take care of them.
The CFL can’t afford that, but its lesson is simple: Football doesn’t have to be as heartless as it is.