Lefko: Carefree days in Winnipeg are over

Jonathan Hefney has signed with the Calgary Stampeders after beign released by Winnipeg. (CP)

Although he is innocent until proven guilty for the charge of possession of marijuana, Jonathan Hefney has been pronounced guilty by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

The Bombers passed their own judgment on Saturday by cutting the standout, albeit controversial, defensive back, whose marijuana charge surfaced on Monday. It happened on May 31 in South Carolina, but Hefney didn’t indicate it to the team.

In four seasons with the Bombers he recorded 241 tackles, two sacks, 13 interceptions and six fumble recoveries with the Bombers. He was the East Division Rookie of the Year in 2009 and a multiple league all-star.

But he compiled quite a rap sheet for questionable conduct on and off the field. Last year he received undisclosed fines from the Bombers and the Canadian Football League head office for posting a distasteful picture on his Twitter account. It violated the league’s social media policy. He also pushed back when the Bombers wanted to convert him from defensive back to strong-side linebacker.

So clearly general manager Joe Mack and head coach Tim Burke, who is enforcing discipline in his first full season, are making a statement by releasing Hefney. The carefree days of Bomber players are clearly over. Whatever tolerance the organization may have had following the news of the marijuana charge dissipated over the course of a few days.

The revelation of the charge cast a pall on the Bombers’ opening of their new $200-million stadium in a pre-season game against Toronto on Wednesday. The timing couldn’t have been more inopportune.

Hefney was one of the players who personified the Bombers’ Swaggerville attitude two years ago when the team started off the 2011 CFL season with a 7-1 record and represented the East Division in the Grey Cup. The year before the Bombers finished last overall in the CFL.

But many of the players, most notably on defence, who displayed this cockiness/confidence in the worst-to-first transformation, became too casual. Some were critical of Mack’s passive attitude in free agency last year. Internally, the team was self-combusting and it contributed to the firing of head coach Paul LaPolice midway through last season.

The Bombers signed Hefney to a three-year contract extension in January and gave him a $35,000 signing bonus in the process. It is money that has been squandered. But cutting Hefney is something the Bombers were compelled to do to send a message to the team and Bombers nation that the times are changing.

It would not be surprising if another CFL team signed Hefney. Though the Bombers have convicted him by banishing him, the other seven teams might view him differently, letting due process take place and taking advantage of his talent.

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