What Ricky Ray’s injury really says about the CFL

As news of Ricky Ray’s injury spread across social media, the words of support and offers of prayer came pouring in. Ray is the rare CFL personality for whom respect among both fans and fellow players is essentially universal given the length and excellence of his on-field career and his professionalism and demeanour off it. Ray is a great player and he seems like a nice guy and so it was hard to see him lying motionless on the field.

In the most important of ways, however, Ray is just like any other CFL player: the Argonauts are on the hook for his medical expenses for exactly a year from the date of the injury. After that, he’s on his own. In some sense, the clock is already ticking.

Now, all indications are that Ray won’t need a long and expensive recovery and rehabilitation process. The most recent update says he has feeling in all his extremities but remains in hospital. At very least, that’s encouraging.

But Ray’s injury is another stark reminder of the risks CFL players face on each and every play and the devastating nature of the potential consequences. There was no penalty on the Ray hit and it wasn’t dirty: it was a football play, albeit it one with potentially dire consequences.

There are plenty of real-life examples.

Three days ago, former CFL defensive back Jonathon Hefney sent out a simple tweet to his less than 1,300 followers:


In October of 2015, Hefney was carted off the field after a collision with the Ottawa Redblacks Patrick Lavoie. Hefney suffered three fractured vertebrae and nerve damage that left him with limited use of his arm. The Montreal Alouettes, for whom Hefney played when he was hurt, covered the cost of Hefney’s first surgery via insurance but their obligations ended a year after the injury. Hefney used a GoFundMe campaign to pay for a second procedure. It’s unclear how he paid for this latest one.

Hefney’s plight is well-documented, particularly in this excellent piece by PostMedia’s Gord Holder. It includes heart-breaking passages like this:

“As far as putting a fork in my hand and eating, I’m just working on those skills,” he said. “It’s pretty much like I’m a kid again, you know, with the right arm. … I’m learning how to eat with it again. I really haven’t been writing yet because I’ve been writing with my left hand. I’m pretty decent writing with my left hand, because I used to do it all the time when I was younger, so I’ve got that down. But, shoot, they’re talking about another surgery.”

The CFL players’ association has said it wants to make extended medical benefits for injured players an issue in the next CBA negotiations. The league, despite their constant of talk of wanting to improve player safety, will likely fight them tooth and nail. One argument will most certainly be economic: we can’t afford to pay medical costs of injured players in perpetuity, given our current fiscal challenges.

There is a certain level of dissonance required by everyone involved at this point. The league and its owners must be comfortable putting players in harm’s way knowing their responsibility is capped by a time limit. Fans and media must be OK with enjoying the game despite the very real, long-term consequences its participants will surely face. It’s easier to just watch the game and not think about it too hard.

What Ricky Ray’s injury did was drop that veil for a moment, drive home the unspeakable point in a real and terrifying way: one of the league’s bona fide good people strapped to a stretcher, his future unknown.

But despite Ray’s status and no matter the final health outcome, nothing will change – or at least very little and not very quickly. Not fast enough for Ray, should he need it, and certainly not fast enough to help Hefney. And if we’re OK with letting Ricky Ray, future Hall-of-Famer and an all-around nice guy, face his future without a safety net of any kind, well, I’m not sure what that says about any of us.

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1551 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

44 Comments on What Ricky Ray’s injury really says about the CFL

  1. Excellent article Drew. Thanks.

  2. Its something that the CFLPA has to address and what will they give up to get more of these long term benefits.

    The CFLPA has gotten unlimited free agency, one year contracts, no padded practices and a shrinking practice.

    Perhaps in lieu of a huge fight for more long term benefits, they will once again take less of an increase to the SMS to further this cause.

    I fear that most players could care less about benefits and look more towards how much money they can make.

  3. This article would seem a little premature to me until we know the extent of the injury – if he plays next week, the injury really doe not mean much.

    • you’ve missed the point. entirely.

      • I don’t think he read the whole article just the headline

        • I read the whole article – the title just does not fit the rest of the article. The article talks about other injuries that were in all likelihood much more serious than Ray’s injury.

  4. Santhusitha Vithanage // June 24, 2018 at 4:58 pm //

    Excellent article. Very enlightening. Hopefully something will get done about this.

  5. Good article. Needs to be addressed by the league.

  6. This is more of an issue for Imports because of the US not having universal health care.

    Which begs the question of how to allot money for medical insurance to Imports and nothing to NIs.

    I’m pretty certain that if you offered players the option of taking $10k worth of medical insurance or $10k in cash, most would take the money.

    • Confused // June 25, 2018 at 10:56 pm //

      You are such an asshat. I continue to wonder who you are in real life outside of social media. I pray that you don’t have children and this bullying and these constant insults are not what you’re teaching the next generation. You, sir, are pathetic. Seek help.

  7. Solara2000 // June 24, 2018 at 5:28 pm //

    Sometimes the best option to offer is ‘no option’. Yes I know we are talking about ‘grown men’ but we insist on mandatory EI and CPP and where an employer provides a basic health and welfare benefits program, that too is usually non-elective. Come on CFL provide some form of LTD for catastrophic injuries and or illness as a part of the total compensation package within your ability to br responsible and affordable taking the $$$ out of the salary ‘pot’ if necessary.

  8. Players are whining about not being able to
    survive on $60k for six months of work now – – his do you suppose they’d react to having a mandatory LTD deduction?

    • Solara2000 // June 24, 2018 at 5:57 pm //

      Perhaps Jonathon Heffney and others in similar situations may be best positioned to answer your question. My sense is they would continue to whine and continue to play even if in rare circumstances they may be putting themselves in harms way.

      P.S. Please don’t misinterpret my perspective as a call for lower salaries but at the end of the day collective bargaining always comes down to a give and take process.

      • LTD insurance isn’t free – – someone has to pay for it, either the teams or the players.

        Which goes back to my original question – – how do you justify giving Imports a $10k benefit without giving NIs an equivalent benefit?

        If you’re expecting players to do the responsible thing and purchase their own LTD, that’s not likely to happen.

        Majority of NFL players don’t purchase LTD and they’re making way more than CFL guy are.

    • Multiple kids with several women, fancy clothes, flashy cars and big houses don’t grow on trees, you know…

  9. thethinman // June 24, 2018 at 5:48 pm //

    Something more has to be done. Hopefully both parties can work together to come to some protection long term.

  10. Mike Walker’s daughter (DT ham in the 80’s)
    did a go fund me campaign and lots of former teammates, fans (myself included) and players form the CFL donated. I heard about it on this site.
    The fact is the US health care(or lack of) system is the problem and we can’t fix that from Canada.
    Problem with gofundme is the exchange and gofund me fees eat up a portion of the donation.

    • Actually the US has a pretty good health care system, some states have it mandatory. But if you are poor you are covered under MEDICIDE and if you are over 65 you are covered by MEDICARE.
      We pay our health care premiums in Canada through our tax system and we pay a lot more in taxes than Americans.
      You can get pretty good health insurance in the US for probably less than we pay in taxes!
      The Obama care is affordable.
      If you work for any government in the US local/state/federal you are covered.
      The problem is that some citizens refuse to pay for health insurance.
      In Canada our health care system is run by the government and that’s why we have shortages and far less hospitals and doctors than in the US system.

      As for football players we are talking about rehab etc after an injury when they retire, that is NOT covered in Canada either, unless you pay into an insurance plan
      Provincial health care doesn’t cover it

      • What insurance exists in the US is irrelevant if the condition exists because an injury sustained in Canada. It will be deemed a pre-existing condition by US insurers and won’t be available period never mind affordable.
        Health care costs in the US are astronomic relative to canada when true costs are calculated – many studies on it.
        Regarding rehab costs – depends on the province as some is covered.

      • Then there is no problem. So why do they go to Gofund me? A Canadian would not have to start a donation fund to get treatment.

  11. “Three days ago, former CFL defensive back Jonathon Hefney sent out a simple tweet to his less than 1,300 followers:”

    Smug and douchey Drew Edwards had to get this jab in.

    • The paw // June 24, 2018 at 6:38 pm //

      It’s not a jab. It’s letting the reader know that the prospects of funding multiple surgeries through the donations of former fans aren’t great. It’s also a reminder that while players enjoy a certain celebrity while they are playing, it doesn’t take long for them to recede from our thoughts once they aren’t. And then they face the rest of their lives, whatever that might be…

    • Confused // June 25, 2018 at 10:59 pm //

      How about this. Hefney doesn’t work and never has since he left the CFL, ask him how he afforded his recent Jamaican holiday.

  12. Really easy to write a sanctimonious article like this when you’re not the one who has to pay.

    • Whom do you suggest “should have to pay’?

      Most CFL players make significantly more than the average person. And every single NFL player does.

      But here they are on gofundme asking for handouts when the gravy train ends.

      • Not sure what point you’re trying to make here but my point was that Drew Edwards has no monetary stake in this yet here he is lecturing the league and fans. Everyone has an opinion on how to spend other people’s money.

    • CFL attendance in 2017, including playoffs, was just over 2 million. Add a $1-$2 surcharge per ticket to go into a segregated health care fund, and you could go a long way to having a form of catastrophic coverage.

      I would pay that in a heartbeat, and I don’t think many CFL fans would even blink.

      • 2 million multiplied by 1 or 2 dollars sounds like a lot but when you are talking about lifelong health coverage for thousands of players, it’s nothing.

  13. Many years ago a Esks DB named Bell was paralyzed from waist down and in a wheel chair. I am curious what has happened to him. Does anyone know?

  14. Colour me green // June 24, 2018 at 7:04 pm //

    The teams need to get a medical fund going for long term health care for very serious injury.

  15. D_Winnipeg // June 24, 2018 at 8:50 pm //

    “The league, despite their constant of talk of wanting to improve player safety, will likely fight them tooth and nail.”

    I think this article raises a few worthwhile points, but I do wonder where the author got the information that led him to making his comment above. As one of the other commentors mentioned above, a negotiation is a “give and take” between parties. If “LTD” coverage is the hill the players are willing to “die on” during the negotiations but are willing to concede in other areas, I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t at least find some common ground on the matter and that the league will not “fight tooth and nail” against providing some kind of long-term protection for the players (especially if the players/CFLPA are willing to share in the cost, which I think is a fairer financial arrangement for this particular item). However, if the players simply add this to their laundry list of other demands and do not make it a priority, and if they are not willing to concede something in return in the negotiations, can we blame the league for drawing the line somewhere? Unfortunately that’s now negotiations work – one side can’t get everything they want without giving something up.
    Again, the author may have a source who is feeding him good information that suggests the league will fight tooth and nail against some type of long-term coverage – however, the way the article it written makes it seem like heresay which hurts the legitimacy of this piece.

  16. Jim Bob // June 24, 2018 at 9:58 pm //

    Former NFL players and the NFLPA had to sue in court to get EXTENDED health care for former players. With NO FAULT Health Insurance available to everyone in the USA most any type of insurance is available BUT if you have had ANY past serious health matters the RATES go thru the ROOF. Prior to Obama Care a given Insurance Carrier simply could say NO to covering a certain person. If there is a WILL there is a WAY to protecting players like Heffney or any others in the future who get HURT in a big way playing the game they love in the CFL.

  17. Canadians might have better luck with coverage after a year than Americans because of our health care system. Is Hefney Canadian or American?

  18. Tiger man // June 25, 2018 at 8:00 am //

    What it means is that the Argos should fire their Oline and the coach of that unit.

    Or, at least dress them in QB gear and let them know how it feels to get crunched like Ray did last Saturday night.

  19. habbernack // June 25, 2018 at 10:57 am //

    Players should take out their own insurance policies.

  20. Pino Nuwar // June 25, 2018 at 2:14 pm //

    In many unionized workplaces, the union contributes a pretty decent share to programs such as LTD and extended healthcare. The CFLPA can and should do the same for their players as well. This shouldn’t just be on the league, nor should it just be on the players. As a side-note, the CFLPA should also take a bigger role in making players accountable for dirty hits that lead to injury (rather than protecting them). There are sadly still players in the league right now that continue to play dirty, even after having ended another player’s career early.

  21. Carolyn Schroeder // June 25, 2018 at 2:40 pm //

    This has to be addressed. Extended health benefits should be part of their contracts if life altering injuries are experienced. Why is the WSIB not covering this? Anyone working in Ontario that gets injured gets covered by WSIB, why not players in the CFL? I don’t know about other provinces, but it seems to me that all medical treatments should be covered here.

    • Solara2000 // June 25, 2018 at 4:02 pm //

      The CFL and probably NHL, MLS and MLB are self-insuring and exempt from coverage. Neither do they pay premiums nor receive benefits. I suspect it has to do with whether the players are identified as or deemed to be employees.

  22. Bill Smith // June 25, 2018 at 6:29 pm //

    The timing of this article is highly exploitive of Ricky Ray’s injury.

    It might be reasonable from a Health reporter or a legal reporter but makes no sense coming from a sports reporter.

    It is both simplistic and inaccurate in both the health and legal issues it attempts to discuss.

    But what is the goal of this? – to discourage people from watching or participating in sports?

  23. Freelasagahunter // June 26, 2018 at 8:13 pm //

    Sounds like im supposed to feel guilty, conflicted for being a fan?

    Goodness, imagine how one would feel making their living reporting on it?

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