The Snap: Als players and coaches educated on domestic violence

Under the collective bargaining agreement, a Canadian Football League player’s workday can last no more than 4 1/2 hours between meetings, film review and practice.

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Nonetheless, the Alouettes organization thought it was paramount its players and coaches attend a mandatory 60-minute workshop Tuesday, during which they were informed about a pervasive issue – conjugal violence.

“We saw an opportunity to be proactive,” Als president Mark Weightman told montrealgazette.com. “In light of recent events in the NFL, we wanted to be proactive and contribute in a positive manner by sensitizing our players on the importance of this issue, and how they can help by speaking out against conjugal violence.”

The session, held in the team’s Olympic Stadium dressing room, was conducted by the Shield of Athena, a Montreal and Laval-based non-profit organization for victims of family violence. The organization offers emergency shelter and professional services to women and their children.

Four women conducted the conference, during which the players and coaches heard a recording of a 911 call placed by a child whose mother was being beaten. Coincidentally, there’s a handful of Als players – Chad Johnson, Kyries Hebert and Chris Rainey, who was just added to the practice roster this week – with a history of abusing former wives or girlfriends, which potentially made the session somewhat more delicate.

“The players were really nice and receptive to us. I think we had their attention,” said Polly Tsonis, a Shield of Athena co-ordinator who was involved in the conference. “At first, I think everyone’s a little suspicious of us. They think we’re out there to tell them how to live their lives.

“But we got them to trust us. It was a nice and friendly atmosphere. They smiled, listened, nodded and participated. They had questions and comments.

“For sure in a room (of players), there’s always going to be somebody affected in some way or another.”

According to Tsonis, one of three Canadian women will experience an act of domestic violence in their lifetime. She said police officers have advised her it’s one of their most-frequent calls, and yet only 30 per cent of cases get reported.

“It touches a lot of people,” she said. “It’s something nobody talks about, but it’s common.”

While the topic of abuse obviously is delicate and sensitive to Als head coach Tom Higgins, a morally upstanding individual, he said players deserve a second chance. And all who have transgressed before have been model citizens since arriving in Montreal, he added.

“This is a reminder to us all that we have a social responsibility,” Higgins said. “What was acceptable decades and years ago isn’t today.

“This is an epidemic that’s a lot more prevalent than we care to know. We’re trying to make them aware they have a responsibility and have to be good citizens.”

Als safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette, who has a degree in law, claimed it doesn’t bother him some of his teammates have a history of domestic violence. He said everyone has made a mistake and learned from it. It’s ancient history, he added, and hasn’t lingered.

“They’re good guys that I’ve built personal relationships with. And they’re humans,” Brouillette said. “I don’t think it’s fair to judge them as a person based on one event, one single thing that happened.”

The issue came to the forefront recently, after it was revealed former Baltimore Ravens’ running-back Ray Rice was arrested and subsequently indicted for third-degree aggravated assault, stemming from an incident last March, during which he punched his then-fiancee (and now wife) in the face, the blow knocking her unconscious.

After a tape of the incident – captured in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino – was made public, the Ravens terminated Rice’s contract. He’s currently serving an indefinite suspension from the NFL.

Brouillette, who’s married and recently became a father, said he can’t fathom any circumstance that would provoke or warrant a man to strike a woman in any manner.

“Personally, no. I’ve never been in a situation that has brought me close to that,” he said.



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