CFL's hot-button issue

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:10 PM ET

TORONTO - Until the CFL comes clean, whether it’s done behind closed doors or in public, it’s hard to take the league seriously in the wake of yet another hit to its image.

Oddly enough, it involved a hit, a shot to a quarterback that amounted to an over-reaction more than protection of an important asset.

Whether it was Buck Pierce, Cleo Lemon, Kevin Glenn, Anthony Calvillo or whomever, it didn’t matter because what mattered most goes to the very foundation of the game itself.

For those who weren’t aware, Argos middle linebacker Ejiro Kuale was ejected from Saturday’s loss by the Argos when he tagged Winnipeg’s Pierce after the quarterback had released the ball when flushed out of the pocket.

Should Kuale have been flagged for a late hit? Yes.

Should Kuale have been shown the door? No.

When head referee Glen Johnson huddled with Argos head coach Jim Barker in the immediate aftermath of the play, an explanation was presented.

On Sunday, Barker was asked what was imparted.

“He said I felt he had intent to injure,’’ began Barker. “That he dropped his head and had intent to injure.”

By invoking the word intent, Johnson has unwittingly opened football’s Pandora’s box, exposing an area so grey that no coach at any level can now explain to his team the definition of intent.

Was it Joe Lobendahn’s intent to knock Lemon out of the game when Lemon scrambled down field for a first down and went helmet to helmet, later hovering over the fallen the quarterback?

Was it Odell Willis’ intent to lead with his head and ram the top of his helmet into the back of Dalton Bell?

Somehow, someway, and the sooner the better, the CFL has to educate the Argos on what constitutes as an intent to injure.

As of today, when Barker convenes for practice, what does a coach tell a team after seeing a player make what essentially was a football play.

More than anything, an explanation is in order.

As of today, every team, and not just the Argos, must be fearful the next time a football play leads to an ejection.

This is such a hot-button topic that it should reach the level of the commissioner.

If Mark Cohon hasn’t already seen a written request by the Argos, he should shortly because the Argos simply need the league’s commissioner to offer a rationale for Johnson’s actions.

It won’t suffice for Tom Higgins, the league’s director of officiating, to come clean and either defend Johnson or admit the officials went too far in protecting a quarterback, especially a good guy such as Pierce who has dealt with some unfortunate blows to his body and reputation.

Players have been ejected for kicking an opponent, for spitting on a foe, for making contact with an official, but no one when reached on Sunday who has been associated with the game can recall a incident quite like Saturday’s.

It’s for that reason alone that Cohon has to come out and explain the league’s position because no other voice will do.

Explain to the CFL what intent is, what exactly did Kuale do that hasn’t been done since the advent of football?

When Barker approached Kuale afterward, a look of bewilderment was seen.

“He was stunned,’’ Barker said. “He said: ‘Coach, I played the way I play. I wasn’t trying to hurt anybody.’

“I said I know because I’ve watched him play the last two years. Every special teams he’s played, every play he’s been involved, he plays the way guys such as Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus played, a true middle linebacker. Anyone who thinks his intent was to injure, I don’t see it.”

Barker’s history with the CFL dates back to 1996.

During that time, he has never seen anything remotely close to what he saw Saturday.

“Did it deserve a penalty? It deserved a late-hit penalty. Did it deserve to be the first of ejection for this kind of play? I don’t believe so. I’ve seen a lot worse.

“I just want to know how to coach my player. Again, I’m not saying what he did was wrong, let’s make that clear. But explain it to me, explain to me how you get ejected for making a tackle. I’m trying to figure it out, trying to figure out what to say to Ejiro Kuale.”

Commissioner Cohon, the ball’s in your court.

Up to Argos dentist

Suddenly, Argos team dentist Dr. Paul Eisner has the fate of the club’s starting quarterback in his hands.

Cleo Lemon, who had his finest stretch until a helmet-to-helmet blow knocked him out of the game, was scheduled to visit with Dr. Eisner for the second time in as many days on Sunday.

A further appointment may be in order on Monday and the results of his visit will determine who will start this week in Edmonton.

As of Sunday, head coach Jim Barker has no choice but to lean on Dalton Bell, who produced a touchdown in relief on Lemon, only to throw two interceptions and a fumble in subsequent series.

“We’re moving forward with Dalton until we find out if Cleo could go,’’ Barker said.

It was such a surreal game on Saturday, the Argos’ home opener no less, that Lemon was forced to the sideline when a tooth was dislodged following hit by Bombers linebacker Joe Lobendahn that caused nerve damage.

In close to 40 years of practising dentistry, Dr. Eisner told Barker he had never seen anything like it, which kind of set the tone for the game.

Lost in the loss was the way the Argos used some very creative offensive and blocking schemes that clearly had the Bombers off balanced.

A lot of the accolades must fall on the shoulders of offensive co-ordinator Jamie Elizondo, who continues to expand the play book.

“I thought Jamie and the offensive coaches did a great job,’’ Barker said. “They threw some formations (Winnipeg) hadn’t seen and did some things to neutralize some of their people.”

Some of the people Barker was referring to was sack specialist Odell Willis.

Willis did record a sack, but he lined up offside on the play and was nearly in the backfield before the ball was snapped.


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