TORONTO (CP) - The Toronto Argonauts say Andre Rison is coming to the CFL to kick-start his pro football career, not escape his legal problems in the United States.
The former Pro Bowl receiver signed with the Argos on Saturday, less than two weeks after an American judge ordered Rison's arrest for failing to pay child support. But Greg Mohns, Toronto's player-personnel director, said the CFL club did a thorough background check on Rison before offering him a contract.
``We did our due diligence and were satisfied with the answers we got,'' Mohns said. ``Andre wants to prove he can still play and wants an opportunity to get back to the NFL.
``He wants to win the NFL's comeback player of the year award, that's his motivation.''
Earlier this month, a Georgia judge ordered Rison's arrest for not paying $107,350 US in child support. The judge ruled Rison was in contempt and should be jailed for 20 days. She asked that other jurisdictions outside the state assist in the arrest.
The state of Michigan is also seeking Rison, 37, for reportedly missing more than $90,000 in child-support payments to another woman.
``On the issue of child support, there's a whole different side to it,'' Mohns said. ``It's not like he hasn't paid child support and it's not like he isn't taking care of his children.
``The bottom line is they (Rison and his handlers) are in the process of getting his child support payments reduced because they're based on his earning power of five, six years ago and he's not making that kind of money anymore.''
Rison made millions playing in the NFL, but won't get rich in Canada. The average CFL salary is roughly $50,000 but that's over the course of an entire 18-game season. Toronto has already played nine games this year.
What's more, Rison begins his Argos tenure as a practice-roster player, earning about $500 a week.
In 1994, Rison's-then girlfriend, the late TLC vocalist Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes, burned down the couple's Atlanta mansion and was convicted of arson. Rison was suspended for four games by the NFL in 2001 for a repeat violation of the league's substance abuse policy and hasn't play since.
But Mohns said Rison is back in good standing with the NFL, having nearly signed recently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
``I'm not saying he's a choir boy but at the same time everyone that met him (Friday) was just amazed at his charisma and personality and pleasantness,'' Mohns said.
Rison, who spent 13 years in the NFL, first auditioned in Florida for Mohns, presently scouting NFL training camps. Rison then went to Toronto and worked out for the team's brass Friday before signing. Rison will wear No. 3 with the Argos.
``I think this is the best move I could have made for myself and my family,'' Rison said in a statement released by the team. ``I am here to play football.''
Toronto (6-3) doesn't play again until Aug. 27 when they're at B.C. Place to face the Lions. Despite the Argos' success this year, the club has been plagued by injuries, dropped passes and fumbles at the receiver spot.
Rison has 743 career catches and 84 career touchdowns in the NFL. However, he hasn't played football since 2000.
The six-foot-two, 190-pound receiver began his pro career with the Indianapolis Colts in '89. Rison played five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and finished with the Oakland Raiders in 2000, helping them reach the AFC championship game. Rison won a Super Bowl with Green Bay in 1997.
Rison becomes the fourth NFL first-round pick to join the Argos this year. The others are running back John Avery (1998, Miami Dolphins) and receivers R.J Soward (2000, Jacksonville Jaguars) and Johnnie Mitchell (1992, New York Jets).
Mohns said he was contacted Monday by Rison's agent and told the player wanted to play in Canada. So the Argos placed Rison on their negotiation list before arranging the two workouts and contract details.
``The bottom line is the guy is still a heck of a receiver who has great hands and runs great routes,'' Mohns said. ``They had researched the league and had pinpointed Toronto as the team they wanted to look at first.
``One reason was that we're in second place, not first, and Andre wants to take a team to the top. Then there's the city itself, it's a big city, and the ability of him to market himself because he is a high-profile guy.''
Argos coach Michael (Pinball) Clemons was excited by the signing.
``We could see he still has outstanding ability,'' Clemons said in a release. ``I have discussed with him the importance of being a leader and helping to groom our young receiving corps.
``We are excited about the possibilities but we all understand there is a lot of work ahead.''