Randy Ambrosie: A day in the life of the CFL’s commissioner

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Five months into his tenure as the CFL’s 14th Commissioner and Randy Ambrosie is still pinching himself.

“At times it is an out-of-body experience that I get to do this,” Ambrosie stated about his duties throughout the 105th Grey Cup weekend in Ottawa.

Sportsnet spent the day with Ambrosie and his inner circle as he navigated his busy agenda during Grey Cup week.

The day played out like this:
• 8:30 a.m. – 9:40 a.m.: Media state of the league address
• 10:30 a.m. – Noon: Fan state of the league address
• Noon – 1:45 p.m.: CFLAA legends luncheon
• 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.: Board of Governors meetings
• 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.: Reception with league partner Kubota
• 7:15 p.m. – 7:50 p.m.: Officials reception on an army base
• 8:15 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.: Grey Cup “Tweet Up” Twitter party

The former offensive lineman is still getting used to being the centre of attention, but he doesn’t mind it.

“I could have done that for another two hours,” he declared with a smile as his communications and security detail ushered him away from the fan state of the league event.

As Ambrosie started the normally tense media state of the league with a selfie it was evident he isn’t a run-of-the mill commissioner and this wasn’t just an ordinary day for the 54-year-old CFL alumnus. The workmanlike humility is evident as it’s hard to picture commissioners from other leagues running through the aisles to hand out swag and souvenirs to fans.

To say he’s enjoying the job would be an understatement.

It was a day not without controversy. First, colleague Arash Madani, then wide receiver Nik Lewis, pushed Ambrosie about the league’s official stance on a link between football and CTE and the possibility of improved player safety.

Tough questions that Ambrosie said he “welcomed because they are not without merit and deserve careful thought and preparation.”

The criticism comes with the job and will take some getting used to for Ambrosie.

Well after dark, Twitter notifications being pushed to the lock screen of Ambrosie’s iPhone illuminated the back of the SUV as he was being chauffeured in. Travelling through the Glebe neighbourhood being whisked from one appearance to the next, he lamented that one fan on Twitter earlier in the day inexplicably compared him to Donald Trump. Quite the leap to compare the current U.S. president to the former Grey Cup champ.

Despite the vocal dissenting minority, Ambrosie does feel he’s “got a better job than Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau,” and most he met congratulated him on the work he’s doing, something that became more apparent throughout the day as many seem to be rooting for him in a similar fashion to the way fans interacted with the players.

The biggest takeaway from our time with him was most of the queries and comments via the media, fans or players were pretty similar: The topics people wanted to bend Ambrosie’s ear about included the health of the Toronto Argonauts, expansion to Atlantic Canada, moving the season up in the calendar, Hamilton hosting a Grey Cup in their new stadium, Calgary getting a new stadium and video replay.

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Even in what has been a successful year by all accounts there are many challenges ahead and during his first Grey Cup week as commissioner Ambrosie took the opportunity to tackle his biggest challenge of all.

As filled as the streets of the Grey Cup Festival at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa were, he still hopes to “bring more people into the tent that is the Canadian Football League” and “make the Grey Cup not just a championship but the biggest celebration of everything that makes us special as Canadians.

With his first “football season” being put to bed, Ambrosie now transitions into his inaugural “business season” on Tuesday with the assurance that he is the people’s choice as commissioner.

From watching him for hours give impromptu speeches, welcome babies to their first Grey Cup, sign trading cards with his likeness and receive thanks from breast cancer survivors who applauded him for the league’s fundraising efforts throughout the month October, it was clear the Canadian Football League’s commissioner was the Canadian peoples’ choice.

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