Selnes: Lawrence suspension proves CFL’s serious about punishment for illegal hits

As I was unable to get to Regina for Saturday night’s game, I am providing some observations on Rider quarterback Zach Collaros, including the arbitration decision upholding the two-game suspension of Simoni Lawrence for hitting him after he slid in the opening game of the season.

With regard to Lawrence, there was never any doubt he would be punished. His hit was clearly dangerous. The only surprise in the game was that he was not ejected.

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Since then Lawrence has sought to justify his actions. He asserted to the arbitrator William Kaplan that the hit was unavoidable.

Kaplan rejected the claim. In a CBC article quoting from his report: "Had the contact been unavoidable, the outcome of this case would, undoubtedly, have been different," Kaplan said. "The evidence establishes that Lawrence had enough time to see the slide and to appropriately respond: after all, two of his teammates – No. 4 (defensive back Richard Leonard) and No. 22 (linebacker Justin Tuggle) – who were no further away did just that.

"The evidence demonstrates that Collaros was well into his slide. This was no fake slide. Lawrence's evidence about going limp and trying to avoid a hit is not supported by the videotapes. Indeed, there is no evidence of any effort to avoid the hit.

"Moreover, I also conclude that he knew the rule. He is a professional football player with years of experience in the game. He admitted to knowing the rule in the pre-discipline hearing. The rule itself is unambiguous.”

While accepting there was no intent to injure, Lawrence’s post-game remorse did not reflect his in-game attitude.

Kaplan also didn't buy Lawrence's contention he regretted the incident, saying the linebacker engaged in trash talk and made a crude comment towards Collaros as the quarterback was leaving the field.

I was somewhat surprised, as a player had never received a suspension for an illegal hit the first time he was subject to league discipline. I thought the suspension was warranted. Precedent is useful as a guideline but not as a godline. Everyone knew the CFL was increasing punishment for illegal hits on quarterbacks. Now the players know major punishment will take place.

As Collaros recovers, the question looms of whether he should play professional football again.

I view it as a workplace injury like work injuries in other occupations. If the doctors treating and reviewing the injury clear him to return to work, he should be able to resume his occupation if he wants to quarterback again. 

I have experience with clients who, once cleared after injury to return to work, are required by their employers to resume work.

His livelihood is playing football. If the professional caregivers say Collaros is recovered, I would not presume to question their decision.

I would be upset if the Riders were to cut him after he was cleared because they worry over another injury.

I would still consider it wrong if they were to keep him on the payroll but not play him. They would be substituting their decisions over medical professionals.

At this time it could not be a football decision. He was playing well at the time of the injury last month.

Neither the team nor the media nor the public should decide his future on this issue. If doctors are satisfied he can play and he is willing to accept the risk, he should be able to play. He may or may not be injured again, but he will have weighed the risk before returning to the field.

Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.

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