TORONTO — Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said this weekend’s violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., prompted the CFL to unveil a new line of T-shirts Sunday in Regina rather than later this fall.
The T-shirts feature the words "Diversity is Strength" on the front and "A league of what we’re made of," on the back with surnames of many current and former CFL players and personnel. They were worn by B.C. and Saskatchewan players and coaches prior to the Roughriders’ 41-8 win at Mosaic Stadium, including Lions head coach/GM Wally Buono, whose name appears on the back.
The T-shirts were originally scheduled for launch this fall as part of Canada 150 celebrations. But Ambrosie said the decision was made Saturday to unveil them in Regina after one woman was killed and nearly 20 others injured in Charlottesville when a car plowed through a group protesting a white supremacist rally.
"It’s not a political message," said Ambrosie, a former CFL player who was appointed commissioner last month. "It was just an acknowledgment that at a time when the world is being pulled apart we can do something to bring it back together and remind people how important coming together is and how diversity can play a big role in being bigger, stronger, faster, better.
"I just felt in a moment when there might be a focus on negativity that there was time to refocus on the positive aspects of diversity. All you have to do is look at the names on those T-shirts and recognize these were players from every race, colour and creed who came to the league and were given an opportunity and became stars and Canadian icons. It’s not at all political, it’s just who we are and really worthy of celebration."
Ambrosie said other CFL teams will don the T-shirts this week.
"We’ve already had those requests coming in … the teams are all getting excited about it," he said. "I’m happy to say it looks as though this is being embraced by our teams, by the Canadian public.
"It’s something we should just continue to celebrate because it’s so much a part of being part of the CFL and being Canadian."
In Calgary, Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson, who’s from Great Falls, Mont., says he was glad to see the initiative.
"I’m not into politics too much. I think we just should be treated as humans," Dickenson said. "We’re all in the same boat. We’re all working hard for the same goals. I don’t understand what’s going on except that I want to treat people fairly and everybody’s the same in my mind.
"Just look at the Canadian content in our league, where they’re from. I think Canada is quite diverse. I like being up here. They adopted a Montanan so I feel like that’s a good thing. I really like being in Canada. I feel it’s quite diverse and a place I feel safe."
The CFL plans to make the T-shirts available for sale to fans sometime later this week. Ambrosie said the league is looking at dedicating a portion of the proceeds to Purolator Tackle Hunger as well as the CFL Alumni Association.
"I think this is a perfect way to reinforce the Canadian Football League and reinforce the message of being Canadian," Ambrosie said.
Ambrosie said the feedback he received from Lions and Riders players and officials about the T-shirts was positive.
"Everywhere I turned, the people wearing T-shirts were smiling and I think they were wearing them proudly," he said. "While I can’t point you to a survey or scientific test that would prove the point, I think everyone who put one of them on, my feeling was they were just incredibly proud to be part of a positive message."
And that included Ambrosie, who wore a T-shirt with Riders receiver Chad Owens in a picture that appeared Sunday on Twitter.
"I’m a double XL so my message was even bigger," Ambrosie said.