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Inside the CFL: Intent to injure, or intent to protect?

Ted Michaels, CFL Editor

Toronto, ON (Sports Network) - It's probably the biggest issue in any league that football is played.

Concussions.

At the start of the 2011 CFL season, the CFL announced new protocols to protect their players.

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, depending on who you talk to, shows the CFL is doing it right... or it still needs to do some work.

In the first quarter of the Argos game against Winnipeg, in their second possession at the end of a 14 yard run, Toronto quarterback Cleo Lemon was the recipient of a helmet-to-helmet hit by Winnipeg linebacker Joe Lobendahn.

Lemon's helmet came off and his head was driven into the Rogers Centre turf.

Lemon was helped to the sideline, went to the dressing room and returned to the sideline later, but did not play again.

Until then, Lemon had played his best game ever as an Argo, completing five passes in a row in a seven-play, 64-yard drive, leading to Toronto's first touchdown.

Toronto head coach Jim Barker said Lemon chipped a tooth, which left a nerve exposed and left him in "excruciating pain."

What pained Barker, was that there no penalty called either for the hit, or what appeared to be a little bit of celebration by Lobendahn after the play.

In the third quarter, all hell broke loose.

Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce rolled out to his right, and just after he threw the ball, Toronto middle linebacker E.J. Kuale hit Pierce with a helmet-to-helmet shot.

Kuale was tossed out of the game for what head referee Glen Johnson called "intent to injure."

That one play turned the game around, giving the Blue Bombers momentum en route to a 33-24 Winnipeg win

Last week in the Blue Bombers game with Calgary, Pierce was the recipient of several late hits; the final one knocking him out of the game with a quad injury.

Barker inferred in his post-game news conference, that the complaints the CFL office received from the Bombers coaching staff, about the way Pierce was roughed up by the Stampeders, may have led to the ejection of Kuale.

"Last week, (Pierce) took a lot of hits." Barker said. "Kuale plays the game hard. It might've been a late hit but it wasn't blatantly late. But the referee thought he had intent to injure the player. I've seen players get helmet-to-helmet hits and not get ejected; 25-yard penalties; late hits, that's fine. Ejections are game-changers. Mr. Johnson thought he had intent to injure. How does he know that?"

What infuriates the Argos even more was, while Lemon was knocked out of the game, Pierce didn't miss a play.

"I've seen a lot of hits in this league and I've never heard of intent to injure when a middle linebacker closes on a quarterback and maybe hits him a step late," Barker said.

"I'm not saying he was wrong in his call; I'm saying I've never seen it. It's hard to swallow but it is what it is."

Argo cornerback ByronParker also weighed in on the debate.

"I'll probably get fined for this," the veteran Argos defensive back told the Toronto Sun. "I understand Buck's a star, he's a star quarterback and they (officials) want to protect him due to his injuries. He played one helluva game and I give him credit for it, but I don't think it was justified for EJ to get kicked out of the game. They kicked him out over something that left me flabbergasted.

"If they would have given him a warning, I understand that, but we got punished basically from what happened in Calgary last week. And I do understand how the league wants to protect quarterbacks and I understand that Buck's a star, but come on."

Understandably, the Blue Bombers weren't happy with the hit on Pierce.

"That was really disrespectful," defensive end Odell Willis said. "I mean, seriously. He has already thrown the ball and to take a full head of steam and hit the quarterback, that lets you know they have no respect.

"People know about Buck's injuries, and they're going to try and put him out, and that's OK if it's legal. But to do something illegal, I hope they fine him and take his whole check. That was just stupid and foolishness. You don't want to hurt nobody."

Notes:

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats may not be too happy with the officials either.

Friday night in Vancouver, Hamilton's Dave Stala was penalized for kicking the football into the stands after his first touchdown of the game. Last season, after scoring a touchdown in Regina, Stala played Hacky-sack with the ball, before kicking it into the stands. No flag was thrown on that occasion, yet Stala was penalized for something far less celebratory.

And defensive end Justin Hickman may also be a bit confused.

He was called for roughing the passer when he hit BC's Travis Lulay just after the threw the ball. Later on the same drive, on basically the same play, he let up just a bit when he hit Lulay after a pass was thrown. Hickman threw his hands up in the air to indicate that all was good, and apparently even asked the referee if the hit was going to result in a penalty.

It did, for objectionable conduct.

Which begs the question.

Were these marginal calls made because Director of Officiating Tom Higgins was at the game?

Just asking.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? ted@900chml.com.

Ted Michaels is the host of the Fifth Quarter, on AM 900 CHML.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Ted Michaels at ted@900chml.com.

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