CFL Pass

Bombers award winners feel Harris should be top Canadian despite positive drug test

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Mike Miller, left, and Tyneil Cooper celebrate after recovering their own onside kick during the first half of a CFL football game against the B.C. Lions in Vancouver, on Saturday July 14, 2018. After being named the team's most oustanding Canadian, Winnipeg Blue Bombers fullback Mike Miller spoke out against voters for not selecting teammate Andrew Harris on Wednesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

WINNIPEG – Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller both put an asterisk beside one of their Winnipeg Blue Bombers awards on Wednesday.

The pair spoke out against voters for not selecting teammate Andrew Harris for any nominations that also go toward CFL awards.

The Winnipeg-born Harris leads the CFL in rushing with 1,380 yards, but was suspended by the league for two games this season for testing positive for a banned substance.

Jefferson was named the team’s most outstanding player and most outstanding defensive player, the latter in a unanimous vote for the defensive end.

Before a press conference, Jefferson tweeted that it was “crazy” Harris didn’t get the MOP nod.

“The reason why he didn’t get nominated was because of a circumstance …” Jefferson told reporters. “If I do win it, I’m most definitely going to share it with Andrew.”

When the Bombers announced the awards in the morning, the press release included comments from Miller, a fullback who got the nod for most outstanding Canadian and was a unanimous selection for most outstanding special-teams player.

“”It is my honour to be named the most outstanding special-teams player for the Bombers, but I feel I must speak out in support of Andrew Harris as our team’s most outstanding Canadian,” Miller said in a statement.

“Andrew is one of the true leaders on our team and one of the best players in the history of the Canadian Football League, and it is a shame he is not being recognized after such a sensational season. I will accept the Canadian nomination on Andrew’s behalf, but do so reluctantly and while completely disagreeing with his omission.”

Stanley Bryant was the unanimous choice as the Bombers’ top offensive lineman and receiver Kenny Lawler was Winnipeg’s top rookie.

Harris, 32, was suspended in late August for testing positive in July for an anabolic steroid called metandienone or methandienone, which is banned by the league and its players’ association.

Four members of the Winnipeg chapter of the Football Reporters of Canada (FRC) and Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea got votes, which aren’t made public.

However, FRC president Jeff Hamilton of the Winnipeg Free Press, second vice-president Darrin Bauming of TSN Radio in Winnipeg and Winnipeg Sun football reporter Ted Wyman all publicly revealed they didn’t vote for Harris because he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

O’Shea was unavailable as the team is on its bye week, but Bob Irving, the radio play-by-play voice of the Bombers on CJOB, tweeted his support for Harris.

“To set the record straight, SOME Winnipeg voters, not all, decided that Andrew Harris should be further punished for his positive drug test,” Irving wrote.

“I believe that a 2-game suspension, 2 missed game cheques and public embarrassment in July was punishment enough – I proudly voted for him.”

Hamilton, Bauming and Wyman all acknowledged Harris had a great season.

“I feel it sets a dangerous precedent if we choose to give recognition to a player’s accomplishments in a season they were banned from playing in two games or any amount of games because of a positive drug test,” Bauming said.

The trio noted the CFL doesn’t have a rule on whether failing the league’s drug policy makes a player ineligible for an award, which is the rule for some sports leagues such as the NFL.

Hamilton said the situation has created a need to have discussions about the topic.

“Nothing was done in-season, obviously, and it wasn’t the ideal time to do something to change a rule,” Hamilton said. “Those conversations will be had in the off-season with the FRC, CFL and CFL Players’ Association.”

Bryant and Jefferson were asked if the CFL needs such a policy. Both said it was up to the league and its players’ association to decide.

Harris has been the team’s best Canadian the past three seasons. He won the award for the West Division last year and in 2017, when he also claimed the honour as the league’s top Canadian.

After he was suspended, Harris spoke to reporters and said the source of “trace” amounts of the banned substance must have been from a contaminated over-the-counter men’s natural energy supplement he took.

When he returned from his suspension, he said he had sent leftovers of the supplement, which he didn’t name, away to be tested. It’s not known if those tests are completed.

Harris was asked at the time if he thought the suspension would affect voting for any awards.

“I would hope not, but people are going to do what they’re going to do,” Harris replied. “At the end of the day, I know the truth and people are going to say what they want to say or think what they want to think.”

The division award finalists will be announced Nov. 7. The CFL will honour its top performers Nov. 21 in Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2019.