'A dose of reality': Riders taking note of CFL's enforcement of vaccination protocols

Following their bye week, members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders are using the COVID-19 outbreak on the Edmonton Elks as a learning opportunity.

Several members of Edmonton’s team tested positive and the club was forced to postpone their game versus the Toronto Argo’s on Aug. 26.

“What happened with Edmonton is unfortunate and honestly a real shot of cold water and a dose of reality for all of us,” Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, said.

Edmonton’s players won’t receive paychecks for missing the game due to the fact that less than 85 per cent of the team was vaccinated. Dickenson believes roughly 85 per cent of the Riders are fully vaccinated.

“We’re very close and down to just a few guys that haven’t been vaccinated,” Dickenson said, adding those players are unlikely to change their minds. “They’ve dug their heels in the sand most of the guys that don’t want to get it, the logical arguments have all been made.”

Defensive back Ed Gainey said he didn’t want to get vaccinated but did so to follow the team recommendations.

“In my case, I chose to put the team over myself because I really didn’t agree with it but I’m doing what I have to do to make sure I get paid,” Gainey said.

A member of the Elks, offensive lineman Jake Ruby, was released after falsely claiming he was vaccinated. The Riders admitted they also have been trusting members of their team without documentation, but will start requiring players to provide proof of vaccination.

“We’ve just been taking our guys at their word and we certainly hope they’re being honest with us,” Dickenson said.

The Riders just had 10 days off following their win over the Redblacks on Aug. 21. Quarterback Cody Fajardo said nobody on the team tested positive upon their return to the field on Wednesday.

“I think guys here have been smart with what their decisions are outside of football,” Fajardo said. “This is our livelihood. We get paid to play football so you have to take it seriously and you can’t put your team in a bad situation.”

On Monday, the Riders announced only fully vaccinated fans would be able to attend games at Mosaic Stadium as of Sept. 17. A negative COVID-19 test result also qualifies.

“I think fan engagement might be a little bit better with the fans,” Fajardo said. “Maybe you can high five some fans because you’ll know that everybody is vaccinated or doesn’t have COVID-19.”

“If it’s a way to have safer environments for people to enjoy a ball game I’m all for it, so I’m happy they did it,” Dickenson said.

In October, it’s expected that passengers on flights in Canada, including CFL players on charter aircrafts, will be required to be vaccinated to travel within Canada. If players aren’t vaccinated, they won’t be able to play games on the road.

“You’ll find yourself losing game checks. You’ll find yourself losing your job over something that could be a small decision that you really didn’t think of in the grand scheme or picture of,” Fajardo said.

Dickenson is confident in the depth of the Riders roster, but realizes some players might not travel and therefore play, as a result of not getting a vaccine.

“Right now the CFL is hitting them in the pocket book saying if they don’t have a vaccine then they can’t travel, they won’t be able to play in a game. If they don’t play in a game, they won’t get paid. Our approach is we encourage everyone to get vaccinated,” Dickenson said. “If they’re not playing in games, their value to the team is less.”

The Riders have a perfect 3-0 start to the season and face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Sunday.