Lefko on CFL: A lot at risk for Argos’ Owens

Toronto Argonauts slotback Chad Owens kisses the Grey Cup in November following his record-breaking season.

The fact the Most Outstanding Player in the Canadian Football League wants to compete in a mixed martial arts bout seems to be a big deal, but in reality this type of thing has been done before – more than once in fact – and quite likely will happen again.

In fact, were it not for the fact Chad Owens is such a high-profile player, the news that he plans to take part in an MMA bout in his native Hawaii next month against a fellow first-timer in the cage or ring likely would not be a big deal at all.

At least two fairly high-profile CFL players in recent history – Adam Braidwood, a former defensive lineman with the Edmonton Eskimos, and Troy Westwood, a former punter/kicker with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – have tried their hand and other parts of their body in the off-season in contact sports.

There is nothing in the standard CFL contract to prevent that, if for no other reason than money, or the lack of it compared to other professional sports that pay players hundreds of thousands of dollars or million. The risk of injury is simply too great for both the teams and the players.

CFL players don’t earn anything close to that kind of money. The average salary is $55,000 a year. Some players earn in excess of $100,000 a year. Owens earns between $150,000-$200,000. The highest-paid players are the quarterbacks, some of whom receive close to $500,000 a year.

For the CFL players who need to make money outside of their six-month jobs, making income from an MMA fight is an option, albeit Owens won’t make much out of this – perhaps a few hundred dollars.

CFL players don’t even have to ask their teams for permission to participate in physically-violent sports in the off-season.

“The way those contracts are written with the wording and language, it doesn’t forbid them to do anything else, whether it’s martial arts or snowboarding, skiing, riding a motorcycle. It doesn’t exclude any of those activities,” former Eskimos GM/coach Danny Maciocia told sportsnet.ca.

He was with the Eskimos in 2007 when Braidwood fought in an MMA event in the off-season. Braidwood won the bout in the first round by a technical knockout over Ryan Jimmo, now in the UFC.

That was Braidwood’s first and last try in MMA. He returned to play football full-time, but had his career cut short by assorted off-field issues.

“If God forbid something happens and you’re injured in the off-season that contract becomes null and void if you can’t pass your physical,” Maciocia said.

Westwood, who had one professional fight, said he is not surprised a player with Owens’ competitive nature would give MMA a try.

“I fought because I grew up watching Muhammad Ali and I was always drawn to the sport,” he told sportsnet.ca. “Whether it’s boxing or MMA, to me that’s the most primal sport there is – man on man like that battling. There’s just something really interesting about it to me. It was more of a foray into boxing, something I wanted to try.

“I understand the appeal and the challenge behind it. When I was growing up, boxing (was high profile) and now it’s switched to MMA (for this generation). If I was Jim Barker (the general manager of the Toronto Argonauts), I do not want (Owens) doing that. It might be something that I’d consider adding a paragraph or two in his contract to thwart that in the future. Of course players are going go be intrigued by MMA. Some will want to venture into it. I guess it’s just magnified by the important role that (Owens) has and how high-profile he is. Players might want to try it, but most certainly it’s not in team’s best interest to allow it to happen.

“It’s just too high risk. I think the opportunity to be injured is raised in MMA because of all the different armbars and legbars and stress on joints.”

Westwood road a motorcycle when he played and occasionally raced cars during the week of games at a dirt oval track in Winnipeg.

“It may well be time for the CFLPA to incorporate certain guidelines for what’s allowed and not allowed,” he said.

Westwood lost his fight via a spit decision.

“If more aggressive I win easily, I believe. Was an awesome experience,” Westwood added.

During his Canadian Football Hall of Fame career, Angelo Mosca wrestled professionally because it helped him stay in shape and also provided an extra income. In fact, he made more wrestling than he did playing football.

Calgary Stampeders’ quarterback Drew Tate indicated in a Canadian Press interview last month that he is training in MMA in Dallas with Guy Mezger, a former pro who fought in various promotions, including the UFC. Tate said he is doing it to improve his durability.

“I said I wanted to be bullet-proof this year,” Tate said in the article. “The guys in that sport are pretty close to it if not all the way. It’s the direction I’m trying to go this off-season and hopefully it works out.”

The reality is if a CFL player wants to try a sport or activity that is potentially physically dangerous in the off-season, it’s totally his own call. If it jeopardizes his contract because suffers an injury, he has no one to blame but himself.

Until the average CFL salary increases significantly or the language in the contracts change, the likelihood is Owens will not be the last to try something in the cage, the circle or the squared circle.


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