One of the most notable moves during the Canadian Football League’s free agency period happened right at the very start when running back Andrew Harris was let go by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. As he put it, the offer he got from the Bombers was “disrespectful” and made him feel, “sad and unwanted,” about parting ways with the team that he had played for since 2016.
To make a long story short, Winnipeg offered Harris a deal that he said would not have made him even the highest-paid running back on the team. The Bombers had already signed younger Canadians Brady Oliveira and Johnny Augustine for the 2022 season. Winnipeg general manager Kyle Walters said that not being able to come to terms with Harris was a crappy part of the business they’re in.
“We’re talking about a Hall of Fame running back, the face of our franchise,” said Walters. “I’ve never been in a situation like this.”
“As much as you try to take a business approach, of course, we’ve been here together for this long. It’s a terrible situation.”
In the end, Harris signed with the Toronto Argonauts. But the thing that really stands out like a sore thumb from this whole thing is the sour grapes attitude adopted by Harris.
As Walters rightly referenced, it’s business. The CFL, like any other professional league anywhere in the world, is a sports entertainment business. The emphasis being on business.
It’s not just about playing a game these days; it is way more than that. It is about winning, TV rights, and attracting major financial backers that come with that success. In order to improve its chances of achieving all of that, a team must assemble the best possible roster to put on the field, rink, diamond, etc. And in doing so, players, and coaches for that matter, come and go depending on salary caps, injuries and longevity among other things.
This is not a new phenomenon. Everyone in the front office, coaches and players know this going in.
In Harris’ case, there is no doubt that he is a hallmark player. He’s the all-time leading Canadian rusher, Grey Cup MVP, and five-time CFL all-star. On top of that, he is also a homegrown Winnipeg guy who had a big local fan following. But that does not excuse his poor attitude and public criticism of the Bombers for the way things turned out.
“Instead of stringing me along and then giving me this last-ditch offer out of nowhere,” he told the Winnipeg Sun. “Disrespectful.”
Yes, he may well have felt that way personally, but pro sports is not about personal feelings.
The fact of the matter is that during the 2021 shortened CFL season, Harris played about half of the games because of injuries. He turns 35 in the spring, and while that’s not old in normal terms, it is when it comes to contact sports, especially if a player is carrying an injury.
The Bombers clearly had to take those things into consideration when planning for their longer-term future. It had nothing to do with personal feelings, it was a business decision and what was in the best interests of the team.
An example of how parting ways amicably should be conducted is when quarterback Tom Brady was traded by the New England Patriots at the end of the 2019 NFL season. There was no public animosity shown by the GOAT, even though he had spent a whopping 20 years with the franchise.
Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and got on with things, at least publicly.
And that is the way it should be done. It’s called being professional.
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