CFL bans full-contact practices to help with player safety

The Canadian Football League and its players’ union took unprecedented steps to improve player safety on Wednesday, immediately banning full-contact padded practices.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie played in the league for nine years and insists that player safety is a top priority for him 

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie played in the league for nine years and insists that player safety is a top priority for him 

The Canadian Football League and its players’ union took unprecedented steps to improve player safety on Wednesday, immediately banning full-contact padded practices in hopes of limiting the amount of collisions players absorb over the course of a season.

The CFL will also extend its regular season from 20 to 21 weeks beginning next year, which will allow players more rest. However, league commissioner Randy Ambrosie didn’t want to wait until 2018 to make practices safer.

‘At the end of the day, when something is right, it’s right,’ Ambrosie told TSN. ‘In this case, making these changes is right, so why delay it? If it’s going to make our game better and safer for the players, I didn’t see any value in delaying.’

Teams will still be allowed to have padded practices during training camp, but they will no longer be able to have their 17 padded practices during the regular season as was the case previously.

CFL players, such as Ottawa RedBlacks wide receiver Diontae Spencer (85), will no longer be taking part in 17 padded practices per season

CFL players, such as Ottawa RedBlacks wide receiver Diontae Spencer (85), will no longer be taking part in 17 padded practices per season

The CFL’s decision could make waves beyond Canada, and possibly even in the NFL.

‘We are eager to discuss with the union at the earliest possible time health and safety matters and all other issues covered by the [collective bargaining agreement],’ NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote in an email. 

The CFL’s new rules come in the wake of a Boston University study on the brains of deceased NFL players that showed 110 of 111 specimen had signs of CTE, a neurodegenerative disease which causes dementia and has also been linked to suicidal behavior.

The NFL had previously vowed to invest $30 million in brain injury research back in 2012. However, after the release of the CTE study, the league severed ties with the National Institutes of Health after paying only $18 million, some of which went to the Boston University research team.

Currently the NFL allows 14 padded practices a year, which isn't a concern for quarterbacks like Kellen Clemens (10), who wear red jerseys and are strictly forbidden from being tackled

Currently the NFL allows 14 padded practices a year, which isn't a concern for quarterbacks like Kellen Clemens (10), who wear red jerseys and are strictly forbidden from being tackled

Currently the NFL limits the total number of padded practices during the regular season to just 14, 11 of which are required to be held before Week 12. Clubs are allowed to have two padded practices in the same week only once a year, and that’s provided that teams do so over the first 11 weeks of the season. (According to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, a ‘padded practice shall be defined as a practice in which players are required to wear helmets and shoulder pads, in addition to any other equipment required by the Club').

In the postseason, teams are allowed only one padded practice per week.

Even during full-contact practices, NFL quarterbacks famously wear red jerseys so teammates will avoid injuring anyone manning the offense's most important position.

NFL players such as Chargers defensive lineman Ryan Carrethers (92) typically wear helmets but no shoulder pads during non-contact practices 

NFL players such as Chargers defensive lineman Ryan Carrethers (92) typically wear helmets but no shoulder pads during non-contact practices 

The NFL currently has a 17-week regular season that includes one bye week, whereas the CFL’s new 21-week season will allow their players to enjoy three bye weeks a year.

‘I think the 21-week schedule has huge advantages, not just for our players, which it does, but it has benefits for getting our schedule right, making sure our schedule is a little more predictable for fans, a little better for teams and travel,’ said Ambrosie, who actually played in the CFL for nine seasons and understands the physical punishment the players endure. 

‘In some ways, I’m in a unique position to be able to talk about what it’s like to be able to recover on a quick turnaround,’ added Ambrosie. 

CFL players, like BC Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings (10), will move to a 21-week season next year that allows for three bye weeks and more rest 

CFL players, like BC Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings (10), will move to a 21-week season next year that allows for three bye weeks and more rest