Arbitrator upholds CFL's suspension against Ticats' linebacker Lawrence

TORONTO — The Hamilton Tiger-Cats will be without linebacker Simoni Lawrence for two games.

Arbitrator William Kaplan rejected Lawrence's appeal Tuesday of the two-game suspension levied against him last month by the CFL. The ruling came a week after Lawrence, the league and CFL Player's Association all met with Kaplan to discuss the ban.

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In his report, Kaplan said the CFL's original suspension was appropriate.

"Ultimately, the evidence leads one to the conclusion that it was a dangerous and reckless play and that the two-game suspension must stand," he wrote.

The decision was somewhat surprising. The expectation was the suspension would be reduced to just one game shortly after the CFL Players' Association announced it was grieving the original ban on Lawrence's behalf.

But now a precedent has been set that such a penalty can be imposed upon a player like Lawrence, who had no previous record of CFL discipline.

Predictably, the league was pleased with Kaplan's ruling.

"Dangerous and reckless play must be disciplined, not simply for the sake of punishment, but to deter such play in the future," the CFL said in a statement. "We all need to take and support strong action to promote and protect player health and safety.

"We look forward to continuing to work with our players on this mission. Mr. Lawrence is now required to serve his two-game suspension, starting with his team's next game, scheduled for Friday, July 26."

There was no immediate comment from either the CFLPA or the Ticats.

The CFL suspended Lawrence for two games after he hit quarterback Zach Collaros in the head as Collaros was sliding at the end of a run during Hamilton's season-opening 23-17 home win over Saskatchewan on June 13. Lawrence received a 25-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on the play.

Collaros didn't return and went on the six-game injured list shortly afterwards. A repentant Lawrence said he didn't mean to hurt his former teammate and the CFLPA's grievance of the suspension June 19 allowed Lawrence to continue playing until Kaplan's decision came down.

Kaplan said while he believes Lawrence didn't intend to injure Collaros, he didn't buy the player's contention that the contact was unavoidable. In the report, Kaplan added Collaros suffered a concussion as a result of the hit.

"Had the contact been unavoidable, the outcome of this case would, undoubtedly, have been different," Kaplan said. "The evidence establishes that Lawrence had enough time to see the slide and to appropriately respond: after all, two of his teammates — No. 4 (defensive back Richard Leonard) and No. 22 (linebacker Justin Tuggle) — who were no further away did just that.

"The evidence demonstrates that Collaros was well into his slide. This was no fake slide. Lawrence's evidence about going limp and trying to avoid a hit is not supported by the videotapes. Indeed there is no evidence of any effort to avoid the hit.

"Moreover, I also conclude that he knew the rule. He is a professional football player with years of experience in the game. He admitted to knowing the rule in the pre-discipline hearing. The rule itself is unambiguous."

The six-foot-one, 231-pound Lawrence is in his eighth CFL season, seventh with Hamilton. He's fifth overall in tackles with a team-high 23 as well as three sacks and two interceptions in five games with the Ticats, who are atop the East Division standings with a 4-1 record.

Hamilton is currently on a bye week. With Kaplan's ruling, Lawrence will miss the Ticats' home game July 26 against Winnipeg and their Aug. 1 road contest versus Saskatchewan.

Lawrence will be eligible to return to the Ticats' lineup Aug. 10 when they host the B.C. Lions at Tim Hortons Field.

Kaplan also didn't buy Lawrence's contention he regretted the incident, saying the linebacker engaged in trash talk and made a crude comment towards Collaros as the quarterback was leaving the field.

"Subsequent expressions of remorse are appropriately seen in this context and do not ring entirely true even though I do accept Lawrence's evident that he had no intention of hurting Collaros," Kaplan said.

Kaplan said during the hearing both the CFL and CFLPA agreed "that some discipline is in order." However, he added it was the CFLPA's view the league's suspension was "unreasonable, discriminatory and excessive."

"Likewise, the Association asserted that the CFL should have made its new expectations known, for example by putting players on notice that it expected a higher standard of player behaviour," he said.

Kaplan said the CFLPA claimed the CFL provided no such notice, and said that the association argued the league set out to make an example of Lawrence with an excessive punishment.

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