Every once in a while, something happens that makes you stop and realize just how much the world has changed in a very short amount of time.
Take this week’s news that recently signed B.C. Lion Euclid Cummings had been charged last May with four criminal counts, including sexual assault, for an incident that allegedly occurred in Vancouver in October 2016 when he was a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Just a few short years ago, in what we will call the pre-Ray Rice era, this would have been a story, not a scandal. And there’s a decent chance Cummings might have been able to continue playing right up until his day in court, based on the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty.
Instead, the Cummings story is an embarrassment to the CFL, and questions are being asked about who knew what and when, and who else should have been drawn into the loop. Most importantly: How is it that a player could face such serious charges without anyone knowing and manage to play the entire 2017 season?
This demonstrates the kinds of things pro sports league and teams have to be thinking about, because simply turning palms upward and saying, “we didn’t know” won’t do anymore.
The details of the Cummings case are that the Blue Bombers were aware in the fall of 2016 that there had been an alleged incident involving Cummings in Vancouver that police were investigating.
Cummings met with police when the Bombers played in Vancouver for the West Division final in November 2016, but by the time he left Winnipeg for Edmonton via free agency the following February, charges still hadn’t been filed.
In other words, even if the Eskimos had run his name through a background check, nothing would have turned up.
So, was it incumbent on someone to let the Eskimos know Cummings was the subject of an investigation a few months earlier, and still might be? Whose responsibility would that be? The league’s? The Blue Bombers’? His representative’s?
And would it have been fair to Cummings, who hadn’t been charged at that time, for either the league or the Bombers to tell the Eskimos about the alleged incident before they signed him? What would Edmonton’s reaction have been if they’d been told after they signed him?
Cummings was charged in April but no one in the CFL seemed to know about it. He played the 2017 season in Edmonton without so much as a whisper about his troubles off the field. And so, last month Lions general manager Ed Hervey was unaware that Cummings was due to face serious charges in the city in which he’d just signed.
It’s worth noting the charges against Cummings occurred during a brief window when there was no full-time CFL commissioner, between the exit of Jeffrey Orridge and the arrival of Randy Ambrosie. Whether that is significant or not is impossible to say.
The question becomes whether a league these days should be expected to track and follow every one of its players who is ever investigated or accused of something, even when no charges are laid. Could you ask a league to run its players’ names through police information checks twice a year? Is that really where we are?
Cummings’ trial is set for October, although the league voided his contract this week upon learning of the charges, a decision the Lions publicly endorsed.
That’s a positive sign of the times, of the lowering of the threshold of acceptance for violence against women, one that began in the football world with Rice and continues right up to today’s #MeToo movement.
But if that’s the new standard, the CFL and other leagues need to have policies and procedures in place that reflect that.
The CFL should start by making it the obligation of every player and agent to make their employer aware any time one of them is charged with any sort of offence. The punishment for failing to do so should be an immediate suspension and a substantial fine, and possible expulsion.
Cummings is the second CFL player to sign a contract this off-season without his team being aware of a criminal charge. Saskatchewan’s Duron Carter signed a new deal with the Roughriders in January, less than two months after being charged with having more than 30 grams of marijuana with him at the Winnipeg airport, something the Roughriders claimed to know nothing about.
The fact that Cummings played the entire 2017 season after being charged with such a serious offence is and should be an embarrassment to the league.
It’s a situation that, in this day and age, shouldn’t happen again.