CFL Player Suspended for Sports Betting Set to Start in Season Opener

While the CFL is dealing with a unique situation with Shawn Lemon, the league is not unique in dealing with gambling-related issues of late. 

Geoff Zochodne - Senior News Analyst at Covers.com
Geoff Zochodne • Senior News Analyst
Jun 5, 2024 • 17:42 ET • 4 min read
Shawn Lemon Montreal Alouettes CFL
Photo By - USA TODAY Sports

Shawn Lemon is a three-time Grey Cup champion, a former CFL All-Star, and a defensive lineman with over 100 career sacks on his resume. Seeing his name atop the Montreal Alouettes depth chart ahead of Thursday's game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would not look out of place in any given year.

But this isn’t any given year. In April, Lemon was suspended indefinitely for betting on Canadian Football League games in 2021, including a match he played in while with the Calgary Stampeders. The offending wager was reportedly a two-game parlay worth around $100. 

Lemon retired in early April, before the suspension was announced, but has since appealed the disciplinary decision and returned to the Als. The team's depth chart for Thursday's game against Winnipeg, the league's first regular season matchup and a rematch of last year's Grey Cup, shows Lemon starting at defensive end for the Alouettes.

“When a player appeals, the decision for the player to be able to practice and play in the games is a team decision,” said Lucas Barrett, associate vice president of communications and public affairs for the CFL, in an email to Covers. “This continues until a hearing and decision has been made.”

CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in response to Lemon's appeal and return that the league intends to "vigorously defend its position" at an upcoming arbitration hearing.

“​The league’s rules prohibiting CFL-related gambling in 2021 were made abundantly clear to all players at the time, yet Mr. Lemon knowingly ignored those rules,” Ambrosie said. “The prohibition of wagering on the CFL by CFL personnel, including players, is critical to the reputation and standing of the league.”

While the CFL is dealing with a unique situation with Lemon set to play on Thursday, the league is not unique in dealing with gambling-related issues of late. 

Professional leagues have handed down plenty of discipline for players for wrongful wagering since the 2018 court decision that paved the way for legal sports betting to expand in Canada and the United States. Just this week, Major League Baseball banned infielder Tucupita Marcano after finding he placed hundreds of bets on the sport, including some involving his team.

Leagues were once critics of expanding regulated sports betting but have since become business partners with sportsbook operators, viewing wagering as a way to increase interest and viewership. 

Keeping an eye out

The CFL is no exception to this, having supported the decriminalization of single-game sports betting in Canada, which happened in 2021. The league now counts several sports betting companies as authorized gaming operators, including FanDuel, Neo.Bet, and provincial lottery and gaming corporations, such as Loto-Quebec. 

But the CFL, again, like other leagues, now has to police its players and ensure they are not using the easier access to regulated sports wagering sites enjoyed by the general public to wager on games themselves. That, the leagues fear, could undermine the faith of bettors and fans in the product on the field. 

To that end, the CFL prohibits personnel from wagering on its games and has implemented a match-fixing policy developed by McLaren Global Sport Solutions. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport launched an e-learning course last year to help educate CFL players on the policy.

Barrett also said that the CFL has partnered with Genius Sports Ltd. (which owns a stake in the league’s commercial operations), the International Betting Integrity Agency, and the International Olympic Committee’s Integrity Betting Intelligence System “to monitor sports wagering activities to ensure that competition remains fair.”

Yet one major difference between the CFL and a “Big Four” league like MLB is what players are paid. While the average CFL player may earn around $100,000 this year, an NFL benchwarmer could make six times that, which, in theory, could make CFL players more susceptible to financial incentives from bad actors seeking to manipulate games. 

The executive director of the Canadian Football League Players Association also said last November that the union had not received specific guidelines about what sort of punishments there may be for violating the CFL’s match-manipulation policy.

Instead, the CFLPA expected gambling-related discipline to fall within the guidelines in the collective bargaining agreement between the league and players. 

“It's one thing to punish guys, but if they don’t know the do's and don'ts, we want to educate [them],” CFLPA President Solomon Elimimian said last year. “Like all our programs, we will be instrumental, we will be on the forefront to making sure that players get the right education, not just at training camp, but throughout the season.”

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