Lions, CFL fight violence against women in new campaign

The CFL is not the NFL, but it isn’t really trying to be either.

For starters, CFL games are played with a bigger football, a larger field and teams only have three attempts to advance 10 yards each offensive possession instead of four tries. The league is over 100 years old, but there are currently only nine teams compared to the NFL’s 32. Players’ contracts are nowhere near as lucrative either: the minimum CFL salary is set at $51,000 a year, just under 12 per cent of the NFL’s minimum of $435,000.

The differences run deeper than that, though.

Last Thursday, the CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge announced a league-wide violence against women policy. Under the policy, developed in partnership with the Ending Violence Association of Canada (EVA), CFL employees -- including players, coaches, officials, executives and staff -- could face up to a lifetime ban from the league if they are found to perpetrate violence against women.

It’s a bold step that stands in stark contrast to the NFL’s gross mishandling of cases of domestic violence perpetuated by its players in the past couple of years.

“We will work to ensure all of our workplaces are safe from violence against women, and that the attitudes that allow violence to occur are not tolerated,” Orridge said in a statement. “In the face of a report of violence against a woman perpetrated by any CFL employee, we will always take it seriously. Doing nothing will never be an option.”

A key element of the new policy is the requirement that everyone in the CFL will receive mandatory training on violence against women and the issues surrounding it on an annual basis.

For the BC Lions, this is nothing new. Since 2011, the Lions organization has been involved with EVA British Columbia in a campaign called Be More Than A Bystander. With large sideline advertisements and an in-game public service announcement, the initiative’s presence does not go unnoticed.

“It’s been such a great honour to be part of such a great campaign and such a great cause,” said fullback Rolly Lumbala, following a Lions comeback victory over the Edmonton Eskimos on Thursday night. “What we want to do is start a conversation and go around different high schools and empower not only the women but also inform how to be a good young man.”

The campaign aims to provide tools, language and practical ideas about how to be more than a bystander and how to communicate that violence is not acceptable.

“We’re all facing peer pressure and a lot of times we just don’t know how to deal with the situation,” Lumbala said. “I think the program does a great job by giving different tools for facing different situations. It’s a really empowering program and to watch it grow up and develop for four years now has been awesome.”

Aware of the sexual assault cases that have occurred at UBC in recent years, Lumbala stressed the importance of speaking up.

“The biggest thing is you have got to say something. If you see something or hear something, just cut it out right away,” he said. “A lot of times, especially when you’re in a group, a lot of other people are thinking the same thing, but it’s a matter of just being courageous enough to cross that line and be like ‘hey, you know what, what you just said about that girl is not cool with me.’”

Be More Than A Bystander, combined with the league-wide anti-violence policy, are important steps to redefine the culture of Canadian football. Together, they set a standard for both violence prevention and action against perpetrators.

For Lumbala, it’s all about creating a safer environment for everyone.

“I think the more we can get the conversation out there, the more we can get some information and give tools to young men and young women, the better.”