Veteran offensive lineman Derek Dennis says CFL doesn't appreciate its players

He’s preparing for training camp to begin on time but the turbulent state of contract talks between the CFL and CFL Players’ Association isn’t giving veteran offensive lineman Derek Dennis a warm, fuzzy feeling about the upcoming season.

The two sides remain far apart on a deal heading into the resumption of negotiations Wednesday. And time is of the essence as the current contract expires Saturday, the day before camps are scheduled to open.

“As much as it doesn’t feel like things are moving along, you’ve got to take it upon yourself to be a pro and be prepared (for camp),” Dennis said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on, this is my livelihood, this is how I put clothes on my children’s back and food on the table so I must approach it with that same mindset regardless of what’s going on.

“It’s amazing what can be accomplished in 24 hours, so I’m just hoping they spend the time before we’re supposed to leave our homes and families to do the right thing.”

Talks ended Thursday with the CFLPA rejecting the league’s proposal for a 10-year deal with no increases to the $5.35-million salary cap and elimination of the Canadian ratio. It also excluded a union proposal allowing players to negotiate guaranteed contracts and included a return to padded practices.

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The CFL issued two statements via social media Friday, the second outlining a commitment to a partnership with the players. Earlier, the league tweeted: “Canadian players are the lifeblood of the CFL game, along with the veteran American players who make a career here. That will not change.”

But the six-foot-three, 345-pound Calgary Stampeder isn’t feeling that love.

“I don’t feel like we’re appreciated from a league standpoint,” he said. “The league recently put out a statement saying players are the lifeblood, yet you’re not trying to take care of the lifeblood of our league. It’s hypocritical.

“I understand bargaining tactics and the business and logistical side of things, but I feel like, for me, the league is run by people who don’t want to be innovative, who don’t want to progress and are afraid of change yet these are the same people who consider the CFL a major league. What major league hasn’t had to deal with some sort of change, some type of evolution to get to where it is today? At some point, we have to be frustrated with just being good enough.”

And for Dennis, it’s time the CFL back up its partnership talk at the bargaining table.

“At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words,” he said. “If I tell my kids I’ll take them out for ice cream, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, dad, you told us you were going to take us to get ice cream, right?’

“My thing is if they (CFL) are going to continue to say these words and put out statements and make it seem like they care about us, why is it so hard for them to show it?”

Dennis, 33, has never shied away from telling it like it is or sticking to his principles. The CFL’s top lineman in 2016 sat out all of last season after asking to be released or traded by the Edmonton Elks. Upon being let go, Dennis re-signed in January with Calgary, where he played 2015-16 and 2018-19.

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“Many people think I’m being negative based on what I do and say but, no, I’m not,” Dennis said. “I love this league and I just want to see it progress and be better.

“I want my time in the league, what I’ve done on the field and any impact I’ve made to last generations beyond me. I don’t want to just be another body that came through and nothing evolved. Yes, the CFL has survived for 100 years but how long can it survive the way it has been moving? Staying status quo and just surviving makes no sense to me. This is a business and what business do you know is OK with taking loss after loss after loss? But the reason why they (CFL) are OK with the losses is they just recoup it from us.”

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What also frustrates Dennis is his belief the CFL doesn’t hold itself to the same standard as its players do for themselves.

“As athletes, we always strive for excellence,” he said. “Why is it, then, the people who are in charge of requiring us to be that way don’t operate in that same manner? That’s my biggest qualm.

“At the end of the day, coaches, teams, owners, sponsors, everybody benefits from what we do so why is it we’re the last people who get thought about when it comes to being able to benefit somewhat? Not even on a large scale, just somewhat benefit from it. We’re pro athletes and we can’t even benefit from what we do and how hard we work? Where does the fairness come in that?”

Last week, CFL players gave their union a 95 per cent strike vote. League players have gone on strike once, in 1974, but the situation was settled before the start of the regular season.

Dennis said he’ll follow whatever direction the membership wants to head in.

“I pride myself on being a great teammate and whatever my brethren decides is the best course of action is what I’m willing to do,” Dennis said. “I know many people were baffled about what I did last year but at the end of the day, yes, I’m a football player but I’m a person first.

“If I feel like I’m being treated unfairly, I don’t have to accept that unfair treatment. The days of ‘Shut up and play ball,’ are long gone.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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