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Hogan: Argos look at labour dispute from different angles

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Mike Hogan
5/28/2014 9:45:46 PM
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One is a legend in the CFL. The other is in his first pro training camp.

For Ricky Ray and Anthony Coombs, the connection they share is more than just playing on the offensive side of the ball; more than just wearing the same double-blue uniform. They are brothers -- union brothers.

While members of the CFLPA were in CBA negotiations with league officials in a hotel conference room near Toronto's Pearson International Airport, 20 kilometres to the northeast the Argonauts were holding their first practice of the season for rookies and quarterbacks.

The most recognizable player on the field on Wednesday was Ray. Entering his 12th season in the league, his third with the Argos, the Northern Californian is pragmatic in his approach to the labour situation, which to a large extent, is out of his control.

"We just have to wait and see," said Ray. "Obviously I stand by the players union and what we're fighting for and hopefully we'll be able to come to an agreement."

What has he thought of the process to date?

"I'm not in the meetings," said Ray.  "It's hard for me to comment on things because I haven't been in there listening to what's going on, but they're fighting for what they want, we're fighting for what we want, and hopefully we can come to an agreement and share what's going on with this league. I think a lot of good things are happening in the CFL - new stadiums, a new team coming back, seems like we're growing pretty well, so hopefully we can find some middle ground and all benefit.

There are few players in the league that garner the same respect, on or off the field, than the 34-year old does. When he gives advice people usually take notice. He took the opportunity to pass along a helping hand to those rookies who may be going through this type of distraction for the first time.

"All you can focus on, especially the rookies, is out here (on the field)," Ray continued. "They can't be thinking about what's going on and what's going to happen. They've just got to take the time they have right now and do the best they can to be focused and make the team."

Ray is very mild mannered and leads by example as opposed to being overly vocal. That said; he's used to the give and take with members of the media and there are days when it's easy to tell that he'd rather be doing something - anything - else than being interviewed. This topic seemed to hit home, however, and in an answer that was longer than the norm for him, the signal caller continued his advice for those newcomers trying to become his teammate.

"That's what you've got to do sometimes when you're an athlete. There are a lot of outside distractions, whether it's at home or anywhere else, and when you step on this football field, be able to focus and do your job."

Coombs is one of those youngsters in an uncommon situation in the long history of the CFL. He's entering his first season in the shadow of a work stoppage. Selected with the third-overall pick in the CFL draft a fortnight earlier, Coombs arrived at camp focused on the on-field activities, not what was happening in the labour dispute.

"There's a lot of stuff going on," said the running back. "I tend to just focus on what I can control. As a rookie I've already got a lot of playbook stuff coming at me so I've got a lot of stuff that I need to learn, so I'm trying not to focus on the business side or whatever politics that are going on around me, it would just distract me from my play."

A pretty mature answer for a 21-year old. He says he's read some articles on the dispute, but says even some of the veterans don't seem to know everything that going on. He just wants to maintain his focus.

"The advice I was told is just worry about what you have to do," said the University of Manitoba product.

The first game on the Argos schedule is Monday, June 9. It's a preseason game in Winnipeg, not only the city where he grew up, but the game would be played on the same field that he starred for the Bisons last year. If the game isn't a casualty of the labour dispute and he's fortunate enough to play, he has one wish.

"Hopefully my hometown will cheer for me, not boo me," Coombs said with a chuckle.

The rookie RB is hopeful the game will be played, as is the veteran QB Ray, who in one sentence summed up perfectly the feeling of players, owners, and most importantly, CFL fans.

"I think all of us want to see training camp start and the season get underway on time, so hopefully they come to an agreement."

Amen.

Ricky Ray (Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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