According to reports, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are checking into Greg Hardy, the former NFL defensive lineman who is currently a free agent. Should the CFL be a second chance league and give big name players an opportunity to prove themselves to potential NFL suitors? It gives the CFL a potential breakout player who more fans, especially in the United States, may recognize. The signing of such a player may also cause more excitement in that city. Is that necessarily a good thing?
The CFL Is not a Second Chance League
This wouldn’t be the first time players from the NFL came to play in the CFL. They are looking for a fresh start, a second chance to rebuild their career. Most of the time it is because a player did not make an NFL team. There have been numerous players whom have gone on to stardom in the CFL and moved on to the NFL. While this is an altogether different situation, the same principles may apply.
Does the league need publicity from players like Hardy, or Ray Rice a few years ago? Would it work for a CFL team to check into the likes of a Johnny Manziel, if he were interested in playing in Canada? He would certainly bring fans into the stands and coverage to the team. But is the baggage worth it?
There is no single answer to all of these questions. As Matt Maychak, Vice President Communications and Public Affairs for the CFL, mentioned this past spring, “With any player with a history of violence, or any player who has faced allegations of violence, we would look to the team to assess the player, not just on his football skills, but on what he brings to the team, including assessing how he has moved forward since the violence or allegation of violence.”
Players like Hardy, Manziel, or Justin Cox, who is already in the league, bring great talent. That doesn’t necessarily mean the CFL has to be the spot to give them a second chance.
Other Sports Do It
There are plenty of examples of sports leagues that have signed players who were suspended from their primary leagues. Drug related suspensions have happened to players across all levels of professional baseball. While drug use is different from violence, the results are the same: players are looking elsewhere for employment and finding it.
Top line players go to Taiwan or Mexico. Lower level players look to the independent minor leagues for an opportunity to play. These players are also hoping to show a team they are good enough to make it worth the risk, and the pending suspension, to sign them. PJ Francescon, once a prospect in the Chicago Cubs organization, is now pitching in Sioux City, IA in the independent American Association.
Michael Beasley, another great example, was once the second overall pick in the NBA draft. He recently spent most of the 2015-2016 season playing in China. Beasley had a string of drug related issues early in his career and readily admits he didn’t put in the right effort early in his career. Consequently, by 2015 he found himself with no place to play. Instead, he went overseas and proved to the NBA that he could still play. The Houston Rockets rewarded Beasley with a new contract.
Violence is Different
Suspension is not the big issue here. Greg Hardy was suspended for violence, not drugs. Had Josh Gordon had not been reinstated by the NFL yesterday and was attempting to play in Canada, would that be different?
Everyone deserves a second chance, but only if they have shown that they have paid the price and learned the correct lesson from their mistakes. Obviously NFL teams are concerned about Hardy. That should be enough for the CFL and its teams to think it would be best not to bring him into the league.
Leagues and teams in all sports need to send the right message to the fans and set a positive example. There is a more important aspect than winning and losing. These players do need to rehabilitate themselves, but it does not mean they have to do it in the CFL.