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Ex-Bombers: CFL should take a knee

They are, admittedly, former players with little skin in the game.

Oh, Doug Brown still does radio colour commentary for Blue Bombers home games, and Obby Khan operates his food outlets at the stadium, but their livelihoods no longer depend on a football paycheque.

So those who depend on football to put meals on the table are free to shrug off their opinions like they might shrug off a halfhearted attempt at a block.

Neither Brown nor Khan are convinced it’s worth the CFL’s time and effort to stage some form of shortened 2020 season in the midst of a pandemic, with Winnipeg as a likely hub.

Their opinion is brought to you by the number Zero. As in the number of positive COVID-19 tests recorded in Manitoba in the month of July.

Tuesday marked the seventh straight day the province has shut out the virus. No new cases.

Let that sink in a bit as you watch the numbers roll up south of the border.

“Whatever is best for the health of our community and country,” Brown said. “It’s entertainment. It’s a game. I made a living at it for 15 years and I’m very appreciative of it and feel for everybody that makes their livelihood from it. But you just can’t jeopardize the bigger picture.

“Any football’s better than no football. But not at the cost of people getting sick.”

A Vancouver product, Brown has stayed in Winnipeg since his Hall of Fame career ended in 2011.

He spent his entire 11-year CFL stint here and never left, establishing a post-football career in medical equipment sales. If you need a knee replacement, he’s your man.

His work means he spends an inordinate amount of time in hospitals. For two months he stayed home, as the postponement of elective surgeries erased the need for his company’s supplies.

But the former defensive lineman still knows a good hit when he sees it, and he was impressed with how Manitobans flattened the COVID curve.

“You’ve got to be proud of not only the health-care system of Manitoba, but how the population responded,” Brown said. “A large majority of our population took this seriously.”

As a former offensive lineman, Khan is used to back-pedalling while taking blows, and the pandemic has delivered a few.

He had to shut down his Shawarma Khan restaurants for a stretch, and the three outlets in the stadium concourse won’t be re-opening anytime soon.

But he swallows hard and says it’s a price he has to pay.

“We need to look bigger picture here,” Khan said. “Come back in 2021. How do we safely get the Americans up here, and their families, for the season? The risk-benefit analysis doesn’t make sense to me.

“We’re ahead of the game here. Why risk bringing something in that can bring us down?”

Suffer for a year, Khan says. Take a knee.

While other sports have begun to get their teams back together with the full intention of re-starting their games, the CFL remains in no-man’s land.

Like the defensive back caught flat-footed between press coverage and laying off, it’s not sure what to do until it gets an answer about the federal government cheque it’s asked for.

While it needs a boat load of green from the feds, a simple green light is all it needs from the provincial health department if it wants to use Winnipeg as a hub city.

Manitoba’s top doc doesn’t mind the idea one bit.

“Given our numbers, there’s a possibility that a plan that would meet public requirements could be put in place,” Dr. Brent Roussin said on Monday. “There could be benefits. We have to try to find ways to get back to the things that we enjoy doing.”

Roussin said he hasn’t seen a game plan from the CFL, yet.

If this ball is never snapped, there are those, including B.C. Lions owner David Braley, who have wondered out loud if the CFL can survive the loss of an entire season.

The two ex-Bombers don’t share that doomsday view.

“It’s ingrained in our fabric,” Khan, an Ottawa native, said. “It’s part of who we are as Canadians.”

Brown agrees, saying there’s too much invested in the game to see it dissolve.

“I don’t think anyone’s going to sell their stadium.”


Twitter: @friesensunmedia

Homegrown players may bail

Canadian content is the backbone of the CFL, and at least one former player isn’t sure it can take the hit of a lost season.

Ex-Blue Bomber Neil McKinlay worries many Canadian players will bail out on the game if there’s no season this summer or fall.

“I don’t know how many guys would wait around,” McKinlay said. “The Canadian content is half the league and that’s kind of what turns everybody’s crank around here, is seeing Canadian kids from anywhere and everywhere playing.”

McKinlay, a B.C. product who played six seasons (2004-09) at linebacker and special teams for the Bombers, says he doubts he would have waited around for a whole year to play.

He’s retired and working as a Winnipeg firefighter now, and wonders if the majority of homegrown players will just move on to their next careers if this year is a wash.

“You might lose 60, 70 percent of your current roster,” he said. “And then you’re hoping to replenish it with the class coming out. That would be my concern.”

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