CFL Players’ Association prepares players for life after football

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WATCH: The CFLPA Academy has been helping players transition to careers away from the football field since 2016 – Apr 28, 2020

While Solomon Elimimian is getting ready for his 11th season in the CFL, the Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker and current Canadian Football League Players’ Association president is also preparing himself, and others, for life after football.

“Everything is not for everybody, but if you can find something you are passionate about, we can help you in that avenue, that’s what it’s all about,” said Elimimian.

The 10-year CFL vet is talking about the CFLPA Academy, which started in 2016, and has been helping players transition to careers away from the football field.

“We have a drive, right, but the hard part is finding other things that interest us that we can use and actually pursue,” said Elimimian. “So, that’s what I try to tells guys. Find something else that you’re passionate about because that work ethic brought you (to the CFL) to become a professional athlete, you’ve just got to find that passion to match that work ethic we all know you have.”

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Scott Armstrong helped get the ball rolling on the academy four years ago, after doing a military presentation while in Regina and meeting with former Roughrider offensive lineman Chris Best and current CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay.

“The whole goal of the academy is wherever you as a player want to go, during football and after football, the academy’s goal (is to provide) some initial resources to get you started,” said Armstrong. “The first couple years, it was new and locker room noise wasn’t that much.”

But the academy gained momentum and more players started to realize the importance of setting themselves up for a future away from the field. Currently, more than 33 per cent of active CFL players are registered in the academy, learning various skills to help them in whatever career path they choose.

“The most exciting thing is really seeing the change in perception in what the academy has to offer,” said Jason Langvee, fellow CFLPA Academy program manager. “We’re not saying stop thinking about football. We’re starting to build skills while you have those opportunities in front of you, and allowing you to build for the future as well.”

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When a player signs his first contract, he has access to the free academy. Then each month, active members get a chance to participate in one or two webcasts on a specific topic, which range from financial literacy to firefighting to continued education and everything in between.

“(Players) see themselves as football players and we have to help highlight the skills that they’ve acquired,” said Armstrong. “Leadership in the locker room, initiative and grinding it out … those are really valued in the business world.”

Elimimian can attest to that. He’s not only improved his financial literacy through the academy, but he’s pursuing his passion in real estate, with help from former players. In fact, it’s one of the many examples of alumni helping out through the academy.

“It’s really important when you have people, mentors, that (have) been in your shoes and know what it’s like to be a professional athlete, know how short the window is, and really take to you to help you get to where you want to get to,” said Elimimian.

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As the academy continues to grow in popularity among players, so too does its services. Recently, an added mental health and well-being initiative called LifeWorks was introduced. It not only offers help to current players but offers free services for players and their families for up to three years after an athlete’s final contract.

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“If you need support with anxiety, if you need support with depression, if you need financial support, there’s a lot of really cool modules that are built into this platform that is now free for all of our members to use,” said Langvee.

However, the work to assist players isn’t done yet. As the program gains momentum, organizers are also trying to help players with financial support if they choose to continue their education, and build on the classes they might have taken during their college days.

“What we can provide in terms of scholarships and bursaries does not meet out demand yet,” said Armstrong. “We’re on the hunt for active negotiations with schools across Canada and the US so that players can continue beyond what they may have taken at college or university.”