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Lemon on field at Alouettes camp amid appeal on gambling suspension

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SAINT-JÉRÔME, Que. — The Montreal Alouettes were prepared to welcome recently signed first-round draft pick Geoffrey Cantin-Arku to training camp Tuesday.

Unexpectedly, a 12-year CFL veteran under indefinite suspension for sports gambling arrived with him.

Veteran defensive lineman Shawn Lemon caught the Canadian football scene by surprise when he took the field at the Claude-Beaulieu sports centre Tuesday morning.

Lemon is appealing a suspension from the league for betting on games, including one he played in, and is eligible to resume practising and playing until such time as an arbitrator renders a decision.

The CFL announced the suspension on April 24 — two weeks after he surprisingly announced his retirement despite signing a one-year extension with Montreal earlier in the off-season.

Pressed to explain why he was appealing and why he retired before coming back, Lemon declined to comment in more languages than one.

"There's no comment on that. We'll let the due process work itself out,” Lemon said, before adding the French, “Pas de commentaire,” to ensuing questions.

"He signed his papers and decided, I don't know exactly when, to return to the game,” Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia said. “And by doing that, he initiated his appeal.”

According to a league source, Lemon filed his appeal Monday night, the same time Maciocia says he found out Lemon would be available. The source spoke on the condition of anonymity as neither the league nor CFL Players' Association have divulged details of the appeal.

"It's been a couple of days since Shawn said he was going to appeal, and the players' association is in support of the appeal, so here we are,” Maciocia said. “We're going to respect the process and wait for the league to tell us how this appeal will end.”

It’s a surprise the Alouettes will welcome.

Lemon, a three-time Grey Cup champion, helped Montreal defeat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28-24 in last year's title game.

The Alouettes went 12-4, including the playoffs, after signing Lemon, who had 26 tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 13 regular-season games. He also earned his 100th CFL sack last season.

The 35-year-old from Charleston, S.C., was all smiles Tuesday while running alongside his teammates, who appeared happy to have him back.

"There's no reason for me to be unhappy," Maciocia said. "I don't see any distraction. I mean, everybody's OK with it. It's just part of the process. It's part of the appeal.”

“It's arbitrating now,” head coach Jason Maas added. “So in the meantime, we have Shawn, we're welcoming Shawn. I love Shawn, I think we all do. Love having him here.

“His leadership, his presence in the building is felt, and obviously (he) came out today ready to play already, so he's ready to go. We're excited to have him here.”

The CFL said an investigation showed Lemon bet on games in 2021 while with the Calgary Stampeders but added there was no evidence to indicate games were impacted by his wagering.

"The CFL is disappointed that the Players' Association would challenge a decision so fundamental to the integrity of our league," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. "​The league’s rules prohibiting CFL-related gambling in 2021 were made abundantly clear to all players at the time, yet Mr. Lemon knowingly ignored those rules.

"The prohibition of wagering on the CFL by CFL personnel, including players, is critical to the reputation and standing of the league.​ ​The CFL will vigorously defend its position at the arbitration hearing."

Alouettes player union representative Kristian Matte declined to comment and was not made available to the media.

Maciocia said he didn’t know how long the appeal process would take or what the verdict might be.

"I can't project what the next few days, the next few weeks or the next few months have in store for us,” he said. “We're just going to play it one day at a time and obviously there's going to be a hearing that's going to be set, and then there's going to be a ruling that's going to follow."

The Lemon saga adds to what's already been a difficult time for the CFL.

Last week, the league suspended Toronto quarterback Chad Kelly from playing in the Argonauts' two exhibition contests and at least nine regular-season games for violating its gender-based violence policy. Two days later, Kelly was on the field during the club's rookie camp at the University of Guelph.

And then Friday night, the CFL Players' Association launched an appeal against the CFL for denying it access to the full 87-page independent report following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against Kelly. The union said it received an executive summary but requested access to the entire report as part of its due diligence of the Kelly ruling, only to be turned down by the league.

Kelly, 30, the CFL's outstanding player last season, wasn't in equipment and didn't practise. Following the workout, Toronto GM Mike (Pinball) Clemons said Kelly's presence was within the conditions of the CFL's discipline but a league spokesman said Kelly was on the field at the Argos' discretion.

Toronto opened training camp Sunday without Kelly, announcing the quarterback would not be participating in team activities.

The CFL's suspension followed an independent investigation commissioned by the league into a lawsuit filed by a former strength-and-conditioning coach against Kelly for sexual harassment and the club for wrongful dismissal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2024.