Hamilton Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence has been suspended two games for his hit to the head of Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback Zach Collaros in his team’s season opener Thursday, the league announced on Monday.
Lawrence lowered his shoulder and made contact with Collaros’ helmet as the quarterback was sliding at the end of a run on the third offensive play of the game. Collaros remained on the turf for several minutes after the hit before walking off the field under his own power. He exchanged words with Lawrence, his teammate for four seasons in Hamilton, as he left the field.
"We all need to walk all of this talk in a meaningful way now, at the outset of our season, by sending and supporting a clear and unequivocal message on player safety," the league said in a statement following an offseason in which player safety was of high concern during CBA negotiations.
Collaros didn’t return to the game, getting replaced by backup Cody Fajardo, while Lawrence was assessed a 25-yard roughing the passer penalty on the play.
In an interview with TSN’s Matthew Scianitti after the game, Lawrence apologized to Collaros and said the hit was not intentional.
“It wasn’t anything personal about Zach,” Lawrence said. “It’s hard to stop when you’re running full speed. I love Zach to death. I feel really bad about it and it wasn’t intentional. Prayers to him and his family.”
Lawrence added he would let Collaros “cool off” after the incident before reaching out to him.
Lawrence has the right to appeal the suspension any time within the next 365 days. Should the appeal be process still be underway when the Tiger-Cats face the Toronto Argonauts on Saturday, Lawrence will be eligible to play. If he misses Saturday's game, he will be eligible to receive his game cheque back should he win his appeal at a later date.
The CFL on TSN panel was unanimous in saying the league needed to take action against Lawrence.
“I’ve got no time for that,” said Matt Dunigan. “I’ve seen it too many times with Lawrence the way he attacks the game. He’s a good football player, but something’s got to be done at this point.”
“Zach Collaros is one of the players that we’re looking forward to seeing play throughout the season. And you have guys like Simoni running around here, taking guys out like that,” Henry Burris said, adding that he had a similar incident with the Ticats linebacker, who targeted his injured knee in 2015.
The league noted that Lawrence's contrition was taken into account, but that the ban was based on the act alone.
"Dangerous and reckless play must be disciplined, not simply for the sake of punishment alone, but to deter such play in the future . All of us, league and players, need to take and support strong action to promote and protect player health and safety, and we need to work together."