Shawn Lemon lifts the Grey Cup on Nov. 19, 2023. Shawn Lemon lifts the Grey Cup on Nov. 19, 2023. (John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports.)

The sports world continues to deal with gambling scandals. One interesting one is in the Canadian Football League, where the discipline process plays out very differently than it does in the NFL due to the CFL-CFLPA bargaining agreement.

The CFL league office is generally much more restricted than the NFL’s in what kinds of suspensions they can impose and how long they can last. And even many suspensions that are imposed are delayed, reduced, or overturned outright by independent arbitrators. But the latest move there has an arbitrator actually agreeing with the league’s position.

That came on Thursday, with the arbitrator suspending Montreal Alouettes’ defensive end Shawn Lemon (under an indefinite suspension since April over bets he placed in 2021, but playing until a July 5 arbitration hearing) immediately. That was as a result of Lemon’s team successfully asking to reschedule that hearing to August, but the league arguing the suspension should kick in in that case. Here’s the CFL statement on that:

Lemon has played in all four games so far of the Alouettes’ season, recording six tackles and a sack and helping the defending Grey Cup champions to a 4-0 start. But they’ll now be without him for a month, including Saturday’s game against the Calgary Stampeders.

Interestingly enough, the bets in question here reportedly came in 2021 while Lemon was playing for the Stampeders. As per 3DownNation, Lemon bet 70 Euros (currently worth around $100 Canadian, or $75 U.S. at current exchange rates) on a two-game parlay, with one leg involving his team. But the CFL investigation said “no evidence was found to indicate matches were in any way impacted by his wagering.”

Athletes betting on games they take part in does seem like an obvious no-no. But part of the dispute between Lemon and the league here is over if this was specifically prohibited by CFL rule at the time (and if so, if that was communicated to players); the CFL (which, like many leagues, has a gambling deal; they struck that last season) claims that it was a clear policy and was expressed to players, but several players have questioned that.

As with most gambling scandals, there are plenty of dimensions and distinctions to consider here. There’s nothing to suggest here this was a Jontay Porter situation of throwing bets (and as such, there have been no suggestions of legal consequences for Lemon yet). And the alleged stakes here are quite small compared to what was at play in the Porter case and others.

But a player betting on his own league and (especially) games involving his own team is concerning from an insider information standpoint. And it’s at least somewhat understandable why the CFL is trying to take a hard line on this. However, unlike the NFL, their CBA means that league-imposed discipline is far more limited and is subject to actual independent arbitration, so the suspension here won’t necessarily come through.

The 35-year old Lemon has had quite the CFL career. He started in the league in 2011 with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders. He then played in the Arena Football League and Indoor Football League in 2012, then joined Edmonton later that year. From there, he’d play for the Stampeders (winning his first Grey Cup with them in 2014), briefly play in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers in 2015, then return to the CFL with the Ottawa Redblacks later that year.

In 2016, Lemon started the season with the Roughriders, but quickly asked for a trade. He was sent to the Toronto Argonauts, where he’d play until 2018, winning a Grey Cup in 2017. He’s since played for the B.C. Lions (part of 2018), Toronto again (part of 2019), B.C. again (the second part of 2019), Edmonton again (part of 2021), Calgary again (part of 2021 through 2022), B.C. again (the 2023 offseason), and Montreal (starting last year, and lifting his third Grey Cup with them last November). So he’s played for eight of the nine current CFL teams, excepting only the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Lemon’s continued to be a productive player even across the last few years. He was named a league all-star in 2022 with Calgary and was also given the Norm Fieldgate Trophy as the West Division’s most outstanding defensive player that season. And he posted nine sacks, two interceptions, and 26 tackles last year, and has been effective so far this season. So he’ll be missed by the Alouettes for at least this next month, and could be out longer if the arbitration ruling goes against him. We’ll see what happens there.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.