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Hackett: My Turmoiled Life As A Short-lived CFL Player

May 17, 2022, 11:43 AM | Updated: 1:32 pm
A general view of the interior of McMahon Stadium prior to the 107th Grey Cup Championship Game bet...
A general view of the interior of McMahon Stadium prior to the 107th Grey Cup Championship Game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
(Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – My life has been a rollercoaster the past two weeks. On Tuesday, May 3, I received a phone call from Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach and CFL legend Mike O’Shea informing me that I had been selected by Winnipeg as the sixth overall pick in the CFL Global Draft, fast forward 14 days and I find myself back in Salt Lake City following a players union strike after negotiations regarding an updated Collective Bargaining Agreement fell through.

Shortly after receiving the news that I had been drafted my parents flew into town to be with me, my wife, and my child as we celebrated my 30th birthday. However, plans quickly changed as Winnipeg required me to report for rookie minicamp the day prior to my birthday celebrations. Fortunately, I was able to spend 24 hours with my parents before I traveled north.

As I wiped the tears from my face I boarded a plane headed for Winnipeg. I arrived at midnight on the ninth of May and was ushered to my dorm room at the University of Manitoba where I would be located for the foreseeable future. On the 10th I endured hours of medical checkups prior to the start of rookie minicamp and spent my 30th birthday staring at the ceiling questioning recent life decisions. I was homesick.

Then, on the 11th I took the field for the first time since 2016 as a football player. The weather was perfect, the adrenaline was palpable, and I felt at home again. Understandably my punting was not as consistent as I remembered it being, but considering the lengthy break between practices, I was not fazed. The weather deteriorated throughout rookie minicamp, and winds of 40 miles per hour engulfed the practice field on the final day of practice. Winnipeg was welcoming me.

As the days went by, my homesickness improved. I was finally able to rest at night in peace and did not feel the burden of being away from my beloved family.

Every day spent in Winnipeg included conversations with many around the club regarding a potential player strike. Although, almost everybody that had experience in the CFL was optimistic that the delay would be sorted with reasonable ease. Little did they know, it turns out.

The CBA was set to expire at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, May 15. In 2019, when the players association and league were negotiating the current CBA, a strike occurred for four hours. In the CFL, the players association and the league have showcased the ability to agree without much conflict. Usually, both parties find a way to negotiate in good faith. That is, until this year.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, May 14, we (the players) were informed that a strike was imminent after the league walked away from the negotiating table. It has been reported that the final league offer was a “take it or leave it” option which the players association did not appreciate or respect.

With my parents back in Salt Lake City and the league on strike I had a decision to make. Do I stay in Winnipeg and assume the strike will end within a short amount of time or do I return to Salt Lake City and spend time with my family without knowing how long the strike will last or when I will be able to see my parents next.

Without much hesitation, I opted to come home. I do not get to see my parents often and value every minute I am able to be with them. Furthermore, the trip to Winnipeg was the first time being away from my child who was born in February of 2020, weeks before the world shut down and I was asked to work from home. His entire existence has been spent with me by his side. I had missed him greatly.

As I write this story it has been two days since the player’s strike began and no end is in sight. The players association welcomes the league to return to the bargaining table, but the league has made no indication that they are willing to do so. It remains unknown when or if both parties will re-negotiate so for now I am back in Salt Lake City and will return to my usual workdays until I hear otherwise.

Many fans and pundits that follow the CFL closely believe the league may not be able to withstand another lost season. In 2020 the CFL was canceled due to the global pandemic, in 2021 the league settled for an abbreviated 14-game regular season, four games shy of a standard season. The past two years have resulted in large financial losses. Another unplayed season may result in the death of the CFL, adding to the intense nature of the negotiations.

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