The More You Know: In Saskatchewan (Well, Lots of Places) You Can Plead Guilty To Hitting a Woman & Get Absolutely Nothing, Including a Record

I suppose it could be a coincidence that Johnny Manziel announced he has signed on with the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Ti-Cats… early on the Saturday morning of a long weekend.

I mean, why would the Heisman Trophy-winning, turmoil-plagued quarterback want to bury the fact that he is doing the northern walk of shame for washed-up former NFL stars?

22nd overall, Manziel was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. He then went on to throw as many interceptions (seven) as touchdown passes over his two seasons.

Yet Hamilton’s head coach June Jones literally thinks Manziel is the best thing to ever happen to Canadian football.

“I think he’d be the best player to ever play up here,” Jones said in January. “He can throw it and he can run it like nobody ever has been able to do.”

Alrighty then.

I really could care less about Manziel’s on-field stats.

What makes me laugh is watching the CFL twist itself into a pretzel trying to justify its approval of Manziel, who has a troubled history, including of domestic violence.

In 2012, then 19-year-old Johnny was arrested after his friend started yelling racial slurs at a black man, resulting in a fight breaking out. Manziel was charged with carrying fake ID and some kind of misdemeanour assault.

In late 2014, not long after being drafted by the Browns, Manziel gets in another fight. His first year with the Browns is unproductive and tumultuous. He goes into rehab in 2015.

In late 2015, now his second season with the Browns, Manziel and girlfriend Colleen Crowley were stopped by the cops after a reported argument. No charges were filed, but a video of the incident was later released in which she says he hit and grabbed her.

By early 2016 the Browns are fed up with Johnny, who generally just DGAF.

In early February 2016 Crowley once again accuses Manziel of domestic violence, claiming he threatened to “kill [them] both” (no charges were laid). Manziel’s dad whines to media that if Johnny (both Manziel Sr and Jr are trust fund babies – grandpa was a Texas oil tycoon) doesn’t get help, he “won’t live to see his 24th birthday.” Johnny’s agent turfs him, and news breaks that Dallas police are investigating yet a third domestic violence allegation, this one from January 29, 2016.

Manziel is cut from the Browns, loses his endorsements, including Nike, and in April 2016 Dallas County grand jury indicts Manziel.

The indictment accused Manziel of “intentionally and knowingly causing bodily harm” to Crowley “by striking complaint with a hand and by forcing complainant into a vehicle and against a vehicle dashboard.”

Manziel goes on to do what most of us would do in his situation – goes to a Justin Bieber concert, gets a tattoo… on a plane, and breaks a bartender’s nose, who goes on to sue Johnny for $1-million.

In December 2016 Manziel and his lawyers finalize a plea deal with the Dallas DA’s office: as long as he completes counselling “on how to make better choices when facing conflict” within one year, he’ll receive a conditional discharge. If he fails, he’ll face full prosecution, a year in jail and a fine.

In March 2017, with the threat of prosecution still hanging over his head, and one month after he was told by a judge in February 2017 that he wasn’t taking the plea  deal “seriously”, Manziel’s CFL rights were snapped up by Hamilton Ti-Cat general manager Eric Tillman.

I mean, “threat of prosecution” ain’t no thang to Tillman, who in 2010 was criminally convicted himself, and slapped with an… absolute discharge.

“In this case there’s no suggestion that Mr. Tillman is not generally of good character,” said the sentencing Saskatchewan judge at the time, one day after accepting Tillman’s guilty plea to SEXUALLY ASSAULTING A TEENAGE GIRL.

Absolute discharge: it never happened. Despite the fact Tillman fully admitted it did.

Jesus Christ. Anyone out there still wondering where #MeToo came from?

Anyway, in November of 2017 Manziel’s counselling conditions are completed and the charge is conditionally dismissed.

In December 2017 the CFL announced it was undertaking a “thorough process”, including an assessment by an “independent expert on domestic violence” (lest you were labouring under the assumption Manziel or the CFL had their own), lawyers, and a one-on-one chat between Manziel and CFL league commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

Presumably, prior to their chat, Ambrosie brushed up on this New York Post’s in-depth story, where Crowley goes into deep detail about several instances of abuse she endured from Manziel during their 17-month relationship.

On December 28 the CFL confirmed it would approve a contract for Manziel for the 2018 season as long as he continued to meet a number of super-secret conditions. A week later Hamilton says it has offered Manziel a contract.

Manziel immediately starts doing whatever he needs to do – including publicly offering to play in the NFL for FREE – to not have to go to Hamilton.

Then, early on the Saturday morning of May 19, 2018, Manziel felt around for his clothes on the floor, tiptoed out the front door and admitted defeat he was headed for the CFL.

I do have a point here – in fact I have three of them.

First – why does the CFL insist on rummaging through the NFL’s dumpster looking for something – anything – that might still be useful?

We’re like that booty call you hit up when no one else is answering their phone. Not only do they answer, you realize they’ve been waiting since you last called six months ago. You’re kind of disgusted with both of you, but you go anyway, because it’s better than nothing.

Secondly, let’s acknowledge that neither the NFL or the CFL have substantial policies addressing domestic violence, likely by design.

Here’s some of my favourite lines from the CFL policy, which was released in 2015:

“In cases where there are clear and documented cases of violence against women – determined by the police, the courts, or confirmed by the perpetrator – the CFL will impose sanctions.”

We believe wome- nevermind.

If the abuse is “clear and documented” by the authorities, or the player admits it, there will be consequences.

“The CFL will also impose sanctions when there has been a clear violation of protection orders or other directives put in place by the courts or police…These sanctions will range from suspension for single or multiple games to a lifetime ban from the CFL, depending on the severity and number of incidences.”

How are we gauging “severity”… open hand vs closed fist? What is the magic “number of incidences” of domestic violence tolerated before things get real around here?

All these caveats are rich, coming from the same folks who dreamt up the CFL’s pass interference rule.

Finally, we should talk about the fact that in some parts of the world – including in Saskatchewan -you can plead guilty to domestic assault…and then pretend it never happened.

There are Domestic Violence Courts in Saskatoon, Regina and North Battleford.

You can read all about them here, but here’s the Coles Notes’ version:

  • the accused is advised that if he (yeah, I’m nodding to the stats and using “he” – deal with it) pleads guilty and then goes through Don’t Hit Women programming, he’ll get an absolute discharge – he’ll walk;
  • or, if he pleads not guilty and takes his chances in regular court, he could end up in jail;
  • so he pleads guilty, takes some classes and then a year later is “sentenced” conditionally – as long as he’s a good boy for one more year, then he’s absolutely discharged.

As if it never happened.

Given what we know about what women are willing – or more accurately, not willing – to tolerate today – isn’t the notion of pleading guilty to hitting a woman and then walking away just a tad antiquated?

Why aren’t we imposing punitive measures on those convicted of domestic violence, AND putting them through counselling?

Why are we operating under the assumption that grown-ass men convicted through Saskatchewan’s Domestic Violence Courts didn’t know better before they hit her?

It seems obvious that society, including our sporting institutions, would take a zero-tolerance position on violence against women – but for god’s sake, shouldn’t the courts? 

Saskatchewan, which has boasted the highest rates of domestic violence in the country for(what seems like)ever, is set to publish its review of domestic homicides – 48 in nine years – next week.

CBC Saskatchewan

The review was supposed to be out months ago… but whatever. Just like the Johnny Football and the CFL, it’s better than nothing.

Maybe it will address this bizarre loophole in our court system.

Meanwhile seems like a good time to promote a conversation I AM super proud to have: Football Saskatchewan’s Be More Than a Bystander program (full disclosure – I worked with the amazing team who brought it to Saskatchewan).

Sponsored by the Heather Ryan and David Dube Foundation, Football Sask’s Be More Than A Bystander program focuses on men, not as perpetrators or potential perpetrators, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abuse taking place around them.

Being More Than a Bystander is about intervening in abusive attitudes towards women in its earliest stages – before it escalates to violence. It’s about empowering Saskatchewan youth to not sit idly by in preventing violence against women.

Because there are still role models out there – plenty of them. And we need them.

Some of our province’s top amateur football players have been trained as spokesmen to speak up about violence against women, to present to young people how important it is for them to do the same.

Today the Be More Than a Bystanders presentation has been delivered in schools and locker rooms across the province, and everywhere it goes its a hit with teachers, students, adults and youth alike. If you’re interested in bringing this free presentation – and the amazing football players who present it – to your school or community, please email me at and we’ll make it happen. We’re booking into fall of 2018, but still have plenty of openings in June.

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For those of you who care, I’m Tammy Robert. I’m a writer, but pay the bills consulting in political strategy, media and public relations. Feel free to email me anytime about either at


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