March 28, 2020

O’Leary: Ambrosie inspired by Saskatchewan-based doctors

The Canadian Press

If you’ve spent any time around Randy Ambrosie, you know that he exudes positivity.

The commissioner of the CFL is in many ways a walking exclamation point and not just about the game of football. In more socially-friendly times he loves to make his way through CFL HQ in downtown Toronto and small talk the staff en masse about their weekends, ask questions about the constantly evolving social media world (“Is that Snapface?”) or just share stories about his family.

But sometimes even the exclamation point personalities can get down, especially when we hit upon times like the ones we’re in right now. Ambrosie found himself that way as he’s watched the world slow from what we’ve known it as.

Over this past weekend, his thoughts went to doctors and nurses, the front-line workers in the battle against COVID-19. He thought of some friends he met in Saskatoon, a married couple of doctors: Mark and Shanna Fenton, that are of course, huge Saskatchewan Roughriders fans. Mark is a respirologist and Shanna is a family physician. When you think of great Canadians, the commish said, you would think of their entire family.

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Commissioner Randy Ambrosie was inspired recently after speaking with a pair of Saskatoon-based doctors (Brianna Thicke/

“I sent them a note on the weekend checking in and wishing them well. They’re on the front lines. They’re battling,” Ambrosie said.

“The entire medical community are the ones that have the toughest job and I just wanted to say hi and let them know I was thinking of them and they came back in such a thoughtful way.

“Mark said, ‘Randy, you can’t underestimate the importance of the voice that the CFL has. What we need to be encouraging everyone to do is to embrace the social distancing strategy. It’s the only way we’re going to get this curve under control and stop the spread of the virus.

“And in a very thoughtful and in fact in a very inspirational way, I walked away from my exchange with Mark really feeling empowered to speak out. As I thought about it, frankly, we want everyone to be well. We want Canadians to get back to work. We want the pressure off the medical community and down that path, you want to get back. We want to get back to playing football.

“The way that CFL fans can help us to get back to playing football is to do everything they can to stop the spread.”

His hands dry and feeling raw from frequently washing them, Ambrosie said he’s going through more soap and hand cream than he ever has in his life. That and social distancing — he’s isolated with his wife, Barb and one of their three daughters, Emily — are the best things that any of us can do right now to slow the spread of the virus.

“Mark said, ‘Randy, use your voice. It’s important and it’ll make a difference,’” Ambrosie said.

“I really did feel inspired by the idea that we have an important message to deliver here.”

Both doctors, he said, are healthy while they continue to work in Saskatoon.

While he’s at home with his wife and daughter, they continue to think about and keep tabs on the rest of their family. Ambrosie’s daughter Sammy is in lockdown in London, England and his other daughter Alice is in London, Ont. splitting time between working from home and working at her office. Emily is finishing her degree from Western University online.

These are trying times for everyone. As Ambrosie continually does his work with the league’s board of governors and thinks about his family, he’s inspired by the doctors he’s spoken with and their message to him.

Our part seems small, but it’s significant. Stay home, wash your hands, avoid touching your face — it’s almost as important as hand washing, Shanna told Ambrosie — and practice social distancing whenever you do step out of your door. Travelers, or those exposed to the virus MUST immediately go home and self-quarantine for 14 days to protect others and possibly save lives.

“One of the things I love about the reference to football is that it’s the ultimate team sport. One of the things about being on a football team that great coaches tell you is do your job. Everyone has to do their job,” Ambrosie said.

“If everyone does their job, football teams succeed and that’s kind of what this is. Everyone do their job. We’re all part of the same team and everyone has to do their part. If we all do that, then we’ll be successful. I happen to believe that in this time, that reference to the fundamental nature of football is a positive thing.”