TORONTO — The CFL suspended Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence for two games Monday for hitting Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros in the head during the league’s regular-season opener Thursday night.
A scrambling Collaros left the game after the hit while sliding in the first quarter. Collaros missed four regular-season games and the West Division semifinal last season with a concussion.
Lawrence received a 25-yard roughing-the-passer penalty — one of three flags Hamilton took for 50 yards on Saskatchewan’s opening drive. Hamilton went on to win 23-17.
"Player safety is the top priority for CFL," commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. "This point was stressed yet again as recently as June 12, the day before the game in question, in a league memo to all clubs which clearly stated: "Any player who performs an illegal act that creates a substantial and unnecessary risk of injury to an opposing player in a reckless and dangerous manner and outside of the acceptable standards of play will be subject to a suspension."
"We all need to walk all of this talk in a meaningful way now, at the outset of our season, by sending and supporting a clear and unequivocal message on player safety."
Collaros was placed on the six-game injured list Sunday. Riders head coach Craig Dickenson told reporters in Regina on Monday he was good with the league’s ruling.
"It seems fair," Dickenson said. "I felt like the hit was violent and against the rules and the league decided to suspend him two games and I support what the league decides on."
A repentant Lawrence said after Thursday’s game he didn’t mean to hurt his former teammate. Collaros spent four seasons in Hamilton (2014-17) before being traded to Saskatchewan in January, 2018.
"He was running full speed, I was running full speed and then he slid last second and I just couldn’t pull up," said Lawrence, a three-time CFL East all-star. "It wasn’t intentional at all … I feel bad about it because I actually care about Zach.
"As a defensive player you play at a high level … it’s hard to say, ‘Go make a play and pull up if the guy slides at the last second.’ In slow motion it might look like it’s easy but when the bullets are flying it’s tough. I’m apologetic and I’m going to try to do a better job to not do that."
Lawrence could appeal the suspension. If he did, he’d be able to continue playing until the appeal is heard.
With Collaros out, either veteran Cody Fajardo or rookie Isaac Harker are expected to start Thursday night when the Riders visit the Ottawa Redblacks. Dickenson said that decision will likely be made on the flight to the Canadian capital.
"I really really feel for Zach," said Dickenson, in his first season as the Riders’ head coach. "He worked so hard in this off-season to get right and to get ready physically and he was ready.
"He just took a big shot sliding and I’ve seen a lot of that happen. Sliding is tricky because you do expose your head even though you’re giving yourself up. It’s really an unfortunate situation. I think all parties involved wish it hadn’t happened."
This marks the first time Lawrence has received supplementary discipline from the CFL since coming into the league in 2012. Ambrosie also noted Lawrence’s comments about the hit following the game.
"However, dangerous and reckless play must be disciplined, not simply for the sake of punishment alone, but to deter such play in the future," he said. "All of us, league and players, need to take and support strong action to promote and protect player health and safety, and we need to work together."