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Kelly signals direction on league-mandated counselling

Chad Kelly Toronto Argonauts Chad Kelly - Getty Images

Nine days after the Canadian Football League handed down one of the stiffest suspensions in its history, it appears Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly is going to follow the league’s requirement that he undergo counselling.

Kelly, who hasn’t spoken to the media since his minimum nine-game suspension was handed down May 7 and hasn’t been seen with his team since appearing at Argos rookie camp on May 9, issued a carefully worded statement Thursday that signals the direction he plans to follow.

“I will take full advantage of this counselling opportunity to learn, grow and better myself,” Kelly said in the statement.

Kelly’s suspension followed an independent third-party investigation that was initiated by the league in February after a civil suit filed by a former Argos assistant strength and conditioning coach accused the quarterback of harassment and the team of wrongful dismissal.

The investigation corroborated three of six allegations made against Kelly in the lawsuit.

Kelly’s statement suggests he is willing to subject himself to mandatory counselling sessions conducted by an expert in gender-based violence, as mandated by the CFL as a key part of its requirement for his eventual return to the field.

But Kelly and his advisors are walking a fine line here, stopping short of admitting guilt or responsibility in any regard, stating that his legal team “awaits the legal findings for review, and explores options to clarify a number of the conclusions from the report and consider next steps.”

His lack of admission or apology is consistent with both his statement of defence in relation to the lawsuit and what he told the third-party investigators hired by the league.

The report on the independent investigation was the basis of the league’s decision to hand down a minimum nine-game suspension. The executive summary of that report was shared with the CFL Players Association, Kelly’s representatives, the Argonauts legal team, and representatives for the plaintiff.

Kelly’s statement also says he plans to “withdraw from training camp to minimize distractions for the team,” after strong backlash from media and fans last week over his appearance at rookie camp.

There is also an ongoing legal process to play out related to the civil case. 

Kelly’s statement follows a series of engagements with officials at the highest levels of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment over the past week, including new president Keith Pelley, a former president of the Argonauts from 2003-07.

Kelly’s suspension had been preceded by several social media posts during the off-season in which he demonstrated an obvious lack of self-awareness. That, along with the suspension and his near-immediate return to the field at rookie camp, created a massive public relations problem for the Argos, who brought Pelley into the picture to deal directly with Kelly.

It's still not clear if Kelly plans to appeal the length of his suspension, but the CFLPA has grieved the league’s decision to withhold the full 87-page report, a process that could influence whether or not an appeal is made.

Then there is the matter of to what degree Kelly will truly embrace the counselling and assessments he’s required to undergo as part of his suspension.

In announcing Kelly’s suspension on May 7, the league clearly stipulated that it reserved the right to modify his discipline if it felt he was not in compliance with its wishes.

The CFL and the Argos are both keenly aware of Kelly’s history before coming to Canada, including a pattern of poor decision making that got him thrown off teams at the high school, collegiate and NFL levels. Other incidents in public drew attention and no doubt shortened his leash in the NFL.

That also likely factored in to the conditions attached to his suspension, as CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie wasn’t going to welcome Kelly back without a way to measure his commitment to changing his actions off the field.

So, as of today, the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player has a way back to the field and to once again become the starting quarterback for the Argonauts.

But his margin for error, both with his team and within the league is going to be awfully small from this point forward.