Thursday, November 16, 2006

So why was Ricky Williams allowed to play THIS season?

In a rather strange about-face and just days before the Grey Cup -- the national championship - the Canadian Football League has announced that it will no longer be a dumping ground for players suspended for drug or "morals clause" violations in other leagues. This is a belated reaction to the controversy over Ricky Williams spending a year in Canada to cool off while he serves a suspension in the NFL for anti-doping breaches; as well as another player in the States who was suspended after allegedly beating his wife to a pulp also found refuge north of the border.

This is certainly a welcome move by the CFL. But it's too little too late. The damage is done.

In internationally sanctioned sport, if someone serves a suspension for drugs, it applies across all sports and in all countries. In the professional ranks, drugs remains an issue for collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and even when the sports do crack down the suspensions are relatively light compared to world standards (normally they call for two years for a first offence and four for a second). If someone is caught violating the norms of personal ethics, he or she is usually shunned -- except in the pros. Anyone remember Kobe Bryant who got a standing ovation from Lakers fans, congratulating him for committing adultery? (At the time, he faced sexual assault charges which he denied but he conceded to having an affair.)

Even NASCAR which is coming to the finish line of its season has a rather lax drug policy compared to, say, Formula One. Maybe it's the "don't tread on me" mentality in drag racing's roots, the South; but I find an incongruency between the faith of the drivers -- most of whom claim to be Christians -- and some of the things they do on and off the track. Who are they kidding, pretending Jesus is their Saviour -- and thinking that gives them a licence to do whatever they want?

Stephen Harper should take some leadership on this one. He should say that if a foreign national is caught cheating in drugs or if they otherwise violate community standards, they won't be welcome in Canada either to visit or to play. And, if a Canadian does the same, they won't be permitted to compete in leagues outside of Canada; or to travel until they face justice and serve their time. Dubya might consider doing the same.

This isn't a matter for CBAs. This is common sense and making sure athletes play by the same rules as the rest of us.

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