CFL needs to honour NFL bans

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:48 AM ET

It's bad enough the CFL doesn't have a drug-testing policy, and has shown little interest in adopting one.

When you've got teams going bankrupt on a semi-regular basis, we suppose there are higher priorities than cleaning up your image.

But could someone please explain why the CFL pays absolutely no heed to the results of drug testing in the NFL?

We ask this question on the heels of recent moves made by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts.

Both teams have shown interest in signing running backs under suspension by the NFL: the Bombers in former Minnesota Viking Onterrio Smith, the Argos in Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins.

The Bombers are particularly keen on Smith, who, unlike Williams, has expressed an interest in actually playing in the CFL.

Smith and Williams are repeat offenders of the NFL's substance abuse policy, having repeated so often they're both under year-long suspensions -- no mean feat in a league that hands out second chances like socks at training camp.

The fact they've shown up on the CFL radar is no surprise to anyone who's followed this league over the years. There's a long list of players who leave behind their checkered pasts in the U.S. for a clean slate, not to mention a test-free environment, in Canada.

It's gotten to the point where if you want a sneak preview of the next big name heading north, just check the rap sheet down south.

Now, I've got nothing against giving people second and third chances.

Mike Sellers, for instance, was black-balled by the NFL after an off-season drug arrest a few years back, came to Winnipeg for the 2001 and '02 seasons and rejuvenated his career. He's still in the NFL, and that's great.

But if the CFL and NFL honour each other's contracts, shouldn't they do the same with suspensions?

Smith isn't allowed to play in the NFL until October, at the earliest, when his year-long suspension ends. Williams can't play in the NFL this season, at all.

Yet the Bombers and Argos would be more than happy to put them on the field Week 1, in June.

"Being that the Vikings basically ripped up his contract, our league will say the guy is entitled to get a job if he's not under contract," Bomber GM Brendan Taman said of Smith. "You're not entitled to say no."

How do we know that -- has anyone ever tried?

Of course not. Because the moment the Bombers say they don't want Smith, a rival CFL team will probably scoop him up.

Competition being what it is, you can't trust CFL clubs to take a high moral ground on an issue like this.

But you could include it in the CFL-NFL agreement.

If the two can respect each other's contracts, they can respect each other's suspensions. Put it in writing.

Why?

Because welcoming drug cheats with open arms sends a lousy message.

Even baseball's Northern League knew enough to honour the first drug suspensions handed down by organized ball a year ago.

Goldeyes pitcher Darwin Soto got 15 games after failing a test, was cut by Seattle, then signed with Winnipeg. But the N.L. ordered him to serve a seven-game suspension to start the '05 season.

The CFL is more closely linked to the NFL than the N.L. is to Major League Baseball, so this should be automatic.

Instead, the people who run the CFL turn the other way, at the same time insisting they be taken seriously as a professional entity worth the average Canadian's support.

We can understand why they don't have a drug policy.

Money is tight, after all.

Integrity, it seems, is, too.


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