April 4, 2018

Cauz: There are plenty of stories outside of Johnny Football

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

A couple weeks back, Greg Ellingson, the excellent receiver from the Ottawa REDBLACKS, tweeted this:

“Anyone getting sick and tired of all the content of players not in our league or giving the #cfl bad publicity? Numerous player stories that could leave a lasting positive image around the league, and in their respective communities if they were told.”

Obviously he was not talking about multiple players; his focus was on one, Johnny Manziel. Now as a media gasbag, I get the reason why all of us are focused on him. He was a star in the NCAA, looked great against Alabama, was a first round pick and has been surrounded by controversy. Throw in the fact that he plays a glamour position and, speaking of positions; he is in position (rightly or wrongly) to be a “comeback” story considering how far his star has fallen.

But you know what, I’ve written plenty about Manziel, so I have decided to go the other way, heed the call from Ellingson and go a different, more positive route. I’m going to throw out as many examples as I can find of players giving back to their communities, doing charitable work and being the force for good that we want from our leaders. Yes, this column may feel Pollyannish, but Greg is right: the good stories far too often fall through the cracks. So think of this as a Public Service Announcement; a reminder of the great work being done by so many players off the field.

Now, before I get to the list, let me say this off the top: There is NO way I will be able to get to all the players. This is really just hitting the tip of the iceberg.

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Johnny Manziel has had his share of headlines throughout an action-packed off-season (Texas A&M)

In 2016, Andrew Harris won the Cal Murphy Heart of a Legend award as voted by his teammates for his work in the community. Harris has done a number of philanthropic endeavours including Harris’ Heroes, a program that rewards youth groups with Bombers tickets for the work they do in their own respective communities.

Here’s Harris in his own words about some of his own motivations for giving back: “I didn’t come from the best background as far as being financially stable. I’m just trying to pay it forward and give people the opportunity to do things I might not have been able to do.”

Rob Bagg has been Saskatchewan’s representative for “You Can Play” and launched his own football camps back in 2014 to help get young people interested in sports. You want the best for children? Get them in sports early and keep them there for as long as possible.

When he’s not busy long snapping for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Jorgen Hus spends his off-season hosting a camp devoted to long snapping with all the money raised going to the Waterboys Initiative, a charity devoted to providing clean drinking water to East African communities.

Anthony Calvillo works with and has been an ambassador for the Cedar’s Cancer Research department.

Speaking of ambassadors, recently-retired John Chick has been one for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation both in Canada and in the United States during his NFL days with the Indianapolis Colts

Weston Dressler recently joined up with TSN’s Michael Landsberg to speak in North Battleford for Mental Health Awareness Day. As someone who works with Michael I can tell you just how appreciated Dressler was to offer up his time and what an amazing job he did.

All-time leading passer Anthony Calvillo’s coaching career will continue with the Argos (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)

The Tiger-Cats are involved in a number of activities within their own community. One that comes to mind is the ‘First on the Field Flag Football’ program which is all about helping to promote youth football and lessons about healthy eating and exercise. Some of the players involved include Jeremiah Masoli, Mike Filer, Adrian Tracy and Courtney Stephen.

But let’s not forget about the lesser known players. I was drawn to the story of recently-retired receiver Alex Carroll. His career was cut short due to a pre-season knee injury this past year. Wanting to give back to the sport, Carroll, after returning to his hometown of Victoria, has stepped up and is now coaching in the Greater Victoria Minor Football Association for the Junior Bantam Gordon Head Raiders, a team he played for at the age of seven.

Let’s mention a couple defensive backs, rapid fire, shall we? The Argonauts Matt Black traveled to a military base in the Ukraine to speak with the Canadian Armed Forces. Chris Ackie from Montreal helps run ‘Motivated Society’, a youth developmental football program in Cambridge, Ont.

How about some recent video evidence of players giving back? Check out this video of members of the BC Lions at Kwantlen Park (Rolly Lumbala, Solomon Elimimian and Craig Roh) as they spoke about the “Be More Than A Bystander” program, whose focus is on education and the ultimate eradication of violence against women.

Maybe my favourite charitable endeavour involves Jeremiah Johnson of the Lions. He is involved in “Lions in the House,” a community outreach program that is all about stressing the value of the trades to middle school kids. As someone who grew up in the 1980’s, we were constantly told how important it was to go to University because heaven forbid “we end up being a plumber.” I’m not saying there isn’t value in the Humanities, I’m a product of them, but exposing 12-year olds to what the trades can mean and how they can expand your future employment opportunities is a great idea. What a unique way for football players to give back!

Jeremiah Johnson has made a strong impact in the community with his third CFL team (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Meanwhile in Ottawa, the players, coaches and cheerleading team clocked in at just under 4,000 hours of work in the community during the 2017 calendar year. From helping a 10-year old boy who is recovering from a brain hemorrhage, Christmas events to the “Quarterback Club” in Kanata, Ont., players like Jonathan Newsome, Diontae Spencer, Nolan MacMillan, Mossis Madu Jr., Brendan Gillanders and so many more helped out in a myriad of different ways. Also an extra shout out to the team’s cheerleaders who give so much for free for lending their time as well.

And finally, back in March, Adarius Bowman and his charity Adarius 4 Autism were in full swing for a fundraising event in Lacombe, Alta. The charity’s prime goal is to raise money for children who are dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Also in attendance were Charleston Hughes and Quinn Smith from the Calgary Stampeders. Bowman was inspired to start his charity after conversations with receiver Brock Ralph, who has autistic daughter named Oakley. In an interview, Bowman spoke about how Ralph influenced him.

Just read these quotes:

“One thing that always stuck with me is I always remember Brock saying, ‘Oh man, I wonder if Oakley will ever live by herself? I wonder if she’ll ever improve? I wonder if she’ll go to university? I wonder if she’ll ever have a boyfriend? I wonder if she’ll ever get married? I wonder if she’ll ever have kids?’

“It’s something that we don’t even think about,” Bowman continued. “We take it for granted to not even put thoughts towards that. My teammates and I expect to get married, we expect to go to prom, we expected to get picked up by some other teams.

“But when you’re invited into this (autistic) community, it’s something that’s not a given. It’s not the norm.”

Bowman is doing the hard part of charity which isn’t about giving money but it’s about giving your time, your energy and your life to something so important.

So again, this list just paints a small part of the picture of the positive impact CFL players are making all over this country.