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john doyle

It is mildly astonishing that the CFL persuaded the Hamilton Tiger-Cats not to hire Art Briles. Mildly astonishing because professional sports is a strange zone, an ethics-free zone and a place where morals are missing in the action. Money matters. Winning matters. Nothing else matters.

No wonder it took a lot of hours and, according to a CFL statement, "lengthy talks" before the Hamilton team was dissuaded from forever disgracing Canadian football.

The supposed "fight of the century," a pay-TV event in Las Vegas, was barely fading from the headlines when it was announced on Monday morning that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL had hired one of the most toxic figures in the U.S. sports world.

To refer to Art Briles, the man briefly hired by the Tiger-Cats, as "disgraced" would be an understatement. He was the football coach at Baylor University, an immensely successful program. Two years ago, more than a dozen women filed lawsuits alleging the school covered up or ignored their rape claims against players. Then an investigation, conducted by a Philadelphia law firm, found the football program had operated as if it was "above the rules."

Related: Art Briles hiring mistake 'completely my responsibility,' Ticats owner says

Further, the investigation claimed staff overseen by Briles had "improper contact" with victims and witnesses, which could be interpreted as having interfered with investigations into sexual assaults by players. Briles denied culpability but was fired along with several other Baylor administrators.

A recent book, Violated, by two ESPN reporters, Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, cast new light. It details how Briles quietly intervened to stop accusations against his players being made public and kept quiet about the appalling activity of players.

A USA Today article about the book had the headline, "Book on Baylor scandal, 'Violated,' a clear reminder why Art Briles should not coach again."

Yet for a day he was set to work in the Canadian Football League.

It's all mildly astonishing because, you see, pro-sports and TV sports coverage have no room for ethical dilemmas. All is perception, thanks to TV money, and the gulf between perception and truth is enormous.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats, a team going 0-8 in the CFL this season, play the Toronto Argonauts this coming Monday. It's on TSN, which essentially funds the CFL these days. To protest the hiring of Briles, who might have been boycotted – the Tiger-Cats or TSN? Well, fans will support the Hamilton team no matter what and TSN's CFL coverage is not really in the business of the discussing the morality of a team hiring a figure already fired from a university team after accusations he'd enabled a rape culture. Nobody would boycott the team or TSN.

Presumably, in the "lengthy talks" between the CFL and the Tiger-Cats, it was put to the team owners that it might look bad for Briles to prowl the sidelines. People watching on TV might be, you know, spooked; maybe even disgusted.

Certainly there was public disgust evident on social media and when the U.S. sports media got wind of the Briles hire there was dumbfounded outrage. It's odd how it all works. For a while it was perfectly plausible that Briles would have a good job in the CFL.

Meanwhile, in the NFL, a player who did not rape anyone or enable a rape culture, is, essentially, being boycotted by the NFL owners. Colin Kaepernick, with the San Francisco 49ers last year, famously started a protest against racial injustice in the U.S. by kneeling during the national anthem. That got him attention, admiration, some abuse and the best-selling NFL shirt of the year. It didn't get him a new job in the NFL. According to NFL spin – which is a mighty spin – he's not very good and his presence on a team might be a "distraction." The use of the word "distraction" is fascinating. It's an admission that nothing should distract from the spectacle of an NFL game. Nothing.

And nothing must stop the NFL from owning TV viewership on American network TV. It's a behemoth. The NFL season is still a couple of weeks away but broadcast of Sunday's preseason game (the Minnesota Vikings winning against the 49ers) made NBC the victor in Sunday's ratings battle. There was even a 12-per-cent increase in the ratings over a preseason game last year at this time. The NFL accrues about $13-billion (U.S.) a year, mostly from TV rights. With that kind of of money, morality goes missing and a player's stand against injustice, being moral, is the true distraction.

The CFL is not the NFL but not that different in its essence. See, sports on TV is itself the great distraction of our time. It's where people lose themselves, ignoring day-to-day issues in personal or public life. It doesn't matter that Floyd Mayweather pleaded guilty to domestic assault and harassment and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. It doesn't matter that Colin Kaepernick is shunned for taking a stand against injustice. And it doesn't matter that a key figure in a series of university rape cases was, for a day, set for a job in the Canadian Football League, an authority figure guiding young men.

There is no public morality in professional sports. And bringing private concerns into sports is usually a waste of time, especially in this era that celebrates ignorance and demagoguery. Sports has always celebrated ignorance and demagoguery. Winning matters. Money matters – and the money comes mainly from TV – and you have to guess that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats organization was persuaded that hiring this Briles guy would mean less money for the CFL. And it took all day. That's why it's only mildly astonishing.