CALGARY – In mid-March, sports around the world came to a halt. Canada’s Football League was no exception, despite the league having not yet started the 2020 season.
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie initially stated the league was formulating possible contingency plans as a result of the COVD-19 pandemic, with the June 11 kick off date remaining intact.
A week later, CFLPA president and Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker, Solomon Elimimian, issued a letter to players warning them to prepare for the worst as the outbreak “will impact 2020 training camps and the CFL season.”
On April 7, the CFL postponed the start of the season due to growing concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The decision meant the league would be looking at a shorter season, starting in early July, as both Calgary and Toronto had bans on public events through the end of June.
While hope for a 2020 season was still lingering for CFL fans, late in April that hope diminished as the league asked for financial assistance from the federal government.
Ambrosie informed the Canadian Press that the league was looking for $150 million to accommodate for lost revenue the league would be facing if the season would be lost.
“We’re like so many other businesses across Canada,” Ambrosie said. “We’re facing financial pressures, unlike anything we’ve seen before.
“Our best-case scenario is we’re almost certain to have to cancel games. But at worst if this crisis persists and large gatherings are prevented, we could lose the whole season and the types of losses we could incur would be devastating.”
Some sports suggested the idea of resuming play without fans. But Ambrosie said that’s a scenario that would be hard for the CFL to adopt because gate revenues are vitally important.
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On May 20, the CFL postponed the beginning of the season until early September and planed for a non-traditional Grey Cup weekend.
Despite not having a firm starting date the league rescheduled Regina’s Grey Cup hosting duties to the 2022 season.
Adding if the league were to go ahead, the team with the best regular-season record, that qualified for the finals would be dubbed the host.
“The pandemic has had a drastic effect on travel, tourism and the economy,” Ambrosie said. “It has become increasingly clear we will not be able to host a traditional Grey Cup and Grey Cup Festival, certainly not with the size and scope that has become customary.”
Black Lives Matter and a name change
The Black Lives Matter movement sparked change around the world the CFL was no exception.
In early June, a former NFL and CFL player living in Winnipeg called out Canadians, saying we needed to acknowledge racism in their country before pointing the finger at Americans.
“I’m proud to be Black, and I’m proud to be in Canada being Black, and I’m proud to be in America being Black. But I am afraid in both,” said Kelly Butler.
“This is what I live. Regardless if I’m in Canada, when you go somewhere to enjoy yourself or walk amongst people, you feel afraid.”
Butler’s mother was murdered on the street when he was 10 years old. He says he feels sick to his stomach watching the ongoing protests and riots in the United States following the murder of George Floyd.
The former Bomber offensive lineman also recently became a father. He said explaining to his young daughter how the world is different depending on the colour of your skin is not a conversation that should happen in 2020 – but it does.
“How do I explain racism to my daughter?” he asked. “How do I explain hate to my daughter?”
The change around the league didn’t stop there.
An uproar from many encouraged sports teams who used names or images that could be considered racist to seek new identification.
Edmonton’s football team faced criticism alongside Washington football team of the NFL, the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL, and the MLB’s Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians.
After an initial announcement saying they’d be keeping their team name, the Edmonton football team began discussions with Inuit leaders on a new team name.
In the team’s year end report, Janice Agrios, the chair of the board of directors, said the team is committed to working with Inuit communities to come to a satisfactory decision regarding its name.
“Our perspective that Inuit input is crucial to this process has not changed,” added Agrios. “Outreach and discussions have commenced, and we will provide an update on this matter by the end of July 2020.”
Despite the research in the annual report, the team faced a lot of pressure from some fans and sponsors. Pressure which escalated following the Washington Football team’s decision to drop their name and logo.
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On July 21, after nearly a month of discussion, the organization made the announcement to officially drop the team name.
“We feel it is important to make this change in response to the findings of our recent engagement and research. Going forward, we want the focus to be on the work we do in the community and our team’s excellence on the field as the CFL’s most successful franchise,” said Agrios.
The organization will go by the Edmonton Football team or EE Football until a new name is selected.
The end is among us
Following more uncertainty around the league’s start, a brief light of hope was given to CFL fans at the of July, when the Manitoba government expressed interest in hosting the league in a bubble setting.
Following the announcement made by Manitoba and a $2.5-million investment to bring the game to the province, the CFL announced if the season were to go ahead, Winnipeg would be the location for it.
However, that hope was short lived.
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Festivities and heartbreak: A conclusion to the season that never was
With the season cancelled fans were forced to miss out on the treasured Labour Day Classic.
However, teams took to social media to celebrate previous years of the annual tradition to give fans a something to celebrate.
Labour Day wouldn’t be the end of the virtual festivities. Each team hosted their own Grey Cup event.
With 2020 marking the first time since 1919 that the Grey Cup would not be played for, teams took part in hosting nearly 40 events over four days surrounding Grey Cup weekend.
During the celebrations, the league also took to announcing the all-decade squad–a list that featured the top players from 2010-19, including Ricky Ray, Nik Lewis, Brandon Banks, and Adam Bighill to name a few.
Among the celebrations Canada’s sports community was hit with the loss of Joey Moss.
Moss was well known around Edmonton as a Legendary member of the Edmonton Oilers and Edmonton football team.
Moss worked with the CFL club from the opening of training camp in June until mid-August, at which time he headed over to the Oilers locker-room for the NHL season capturing the hearts of Edmonton sports fans along the way, particularly with his enthusiastic participation in the national anthem before the start of every hockey game.
On October 26, both clubs announced Moss’ death. He was 57.
Looking ahead in the CFL offseason, plans for a 2021 season have been announced. The league is hoping for a return with the season scheduled to start in June.
-with files from CityNews, 660 News and the Canadian Press