Garrett Marino is sorry (that he got suspended)

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Rendition of a CFL press release. Tumisu via Pixabay

The Roughriders’ notorious defensive lineman just earned the longest suspension in CFL history

Garrett Marino is a 27-year-old defensive lineman for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He’s a hulking man at 6’2” and 290 lbs, notorious for his aggressive and uncouth playing style. Before joining the Roughriders in early 2021, Marino played for the University of Alabama-Birmingham. He has described himself as one who plays “the game with an edge,” but on July 8 Marino took it too far when he illegally tackled Ottawa Redblacks quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. This low hit injured Masoli considerably and visibly. Not only did Marino celebrate the illegal tackle, he also made racially-charged comments toward Masoli. Consequently, Marino earned himself the longest ever suspension in CFL history. The four-game suspension is broken down as follows: a two-game suspension for the low hit and subsequent celebration, a one-game suspension for the racist comments, and a one-game suspension for another illegal tackle on an offensive lineman from a previous play.

Unsurprisingly, a litany of statements from players and coaches have flooded Twitter and sports news. You know, all the usual refrains of “this isn’t who we are,” and “his actions don’t represent the CFL or its fans,” and so on. I have no doubt that Marino’s actions have met universal disapproval. I know that Roughriders fans do not condone such egregious displays of racism. And if the fans could have heard what was said on the field (EIC note: this has not been disclosed to our knowledge thus far), I’d hope none of them would have cheered Marino’s grandstanding. Perhaps the only fortunate spin on this event is how Marino’s choices reopen the conversation about racism in football; specifically, Saskatchewan football.

Racism and the CFL certainly have a past. In April last year, CBC journalist Jason Warick wrote a brilliant exposé on Roughriders legend George Reed. In it, Warick describes Reed’s incredible perseverance against the racism he experienced playing in the CFL and living in Regina. 

Reed was drafted to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the early 1960s. He recounts having to live in hotels during his first two seasons playing for the Roughriders; not for the living arrangement’s feasibility, but because landlords wouldn’t rent to a Black man. He makes it clear that most of his teammates were supportive, but some of them certainly weren’t. For example, some white CFL players refused to shower at the same time as their Black teammates. Some of Reed’s teammates would even “prank call” him, pretending to be Ku Klux Klan members (EIC note: these calls occurred at a time when the Klu Klux Klan was pushing to once again increase their presence in Saskatchewan).  

Reed went on to be one of the most celebrated and awarded Saskatchewan Roughriders players ever. But Reed never shied away from calling out the racism he experienced in the CFL, and in Regina. During an interview in 1967, Reed said that living in Regina was akin to being “in the heart of Alabama.” In the mid-1960s, he was given a membership at the Wascana Country Club. This was remarkable because, at the time, Black and Jewish golfers were banned from using the course. Despite the racist prejudices and barriers Reed had to face, he more than earned his status as one of the CFL’s greats.

Reed’s story is just one of many. Unfortunately, Marino’s revolting behaviour shows that people of colour playing in the CFL must still endure racism both on and off the field. To literally add insult to injury, Marino released a shallow, tone-deaf non-apology on his Twitter on July 13. He wrote, “Regarding the comments I made during the game, I regret that I said them, as I now understand their consequences.” As he now understands their consequences? This isn’t an apology. It’s an admission of guilt, sure, but the remorse is entirely misplaced. It seems that Marino isn’t sorry for his racism; he’s sorry that he got disciplined.

Marino was just given the longest suspension in CFL history, and rightfully so. It should indicate that the league is taking this matter seriously; it’s literally the least they can do. We all enjoy watching these men play. We all cherish their incredible athletic ability and endurance. But we also need to respect the players as people, worthy of dignity. It would be grotesquely hypocritical to love the sport but disrespect the players. Let’s hope that Marino learns this lesson sooner rather than later.

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