There was a time when it might have made sense, depending on the virulence of the assault, for stakeholders to grab pitchforks and lanterns and defend the honour of the Canadian Football League in the face of American disrespect.
That time has passed.
The CFL has outlasted a collection of American acronyms — USFL, XFL and AAF among them — and can surely absorb the odd cheap shot from afar. There is no need for major stakeholders to take offence or play defence every time a critic tosses a dart.
I raise the issue only because there was a massive, knee-jerk response on Twitter at the beginning of the week, after an American sports writer issued a mild, uninformed rebuke of the CFL. He called it boring because there wasn’t enough downfield passing.
Wrong and wronger.
But even as the offending American pundit, Boston Globe scribbler Ben Volin, was upbraided in tweet after tweet from fans, media, players and the B.C. Lions’ official account, it wasn’t difficult to spot a stereotypical Canadian apologia unwritten into the character counts.
The American in question certainly noticed it.
“Little did I know that one sentence in my Sunday Notes would set off an international incident,” Volin wrote in a retweet of a Lions’ video aimed at him. “Two straight days of this from fans, media, players and now teams. Sorry I hurt your feelings, CFL.”
Indeed, the response seemed more parochial than proper.
Volin buried his original volley in an obituary for the short-lived Alliance of American Football. It was lazy — based apparently on watching one particularly pedestrian Edmonton at Hamilton game from 2015 — and flippant.
More to the point, it was irrelevant and eminently ignorable.
But social media provides the platform and people have opinions both considered and immediate, so a throwaway line in a notes column posted on a Boston newspaper website raised a storm surge of needless protest all over the CFL map.
That said, B.C. quarterback Mike Reilly’s response on Twitter was the succinct exception.
“I hate passing the ball downfield …”
It was funny because anyone who read it, save perhaps for Volin, knows that Reilly likes only one thing better than throwing the ball downfield. For the life of me I can’t think what that thing could be. But I’m reasonably sure there has to be one.
If only Reilly had been able to huddle up the gathering Twitter horde and lead them all on the same sarcastic march to the end zone, the CFL’s honour would have remained intact and Volin would not have been able to eke out even the slightest whiff of victory.
Instead, the chorus of insults and a collection of stats gathered hastily and earnestly to make Volin look even less informed than he obviously is about the CFL, belied an apparent self-consciousness.
There’s no reason for it anymore. The CFL is widely recognized as the second-best league in the world. Yes, that’s right, second only to the National Football League.
People of a certain vintage have grown up here in the shadow of the NFL thinking the CFL doesn’t measure up. True. It cannot compete for the top-end players earning NFL millions. But it comes closer and has lasted longer than any other league on the planet, and that should be a source of confidence for CFL personnel and the fan base.
The underlying approach of CFL 2.0 — commissioner Randy Ambrosie’s initiative to expand the brand — is a conscious refusal to limit the scope of the league. He thinks big, and he is intent on dragging the CFL onto the world stage.
Why can’t the CFL hold a player combine and draft in Mexico City? Why shouldn’t the CFL add players from Germany, Italy, France, Finland and Mexico? Why wouldn’t the league sign international streaming and broadcast agreements and hold games in Mexico and Europe? Why wouldn’t international brands want to associate with the CFL?
Ambrosie stopped asking and is instead inventing ways to partner with people all over the world who already view the CFL in a positive light.
Those ranks would include many of the kids from Europe and Mexico who have been drafted by CFL teams in the last four months. They have expressed pride and delight at having a chance to crack the roster of a team in the second best professional football league in the world.
That league walks the walk. Its stakeholders should know how and when to talk the talk.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019