That Little Development League to the North
David Waldstein, “As N.F.L. Prepares for Longer Extra Points, C.F.L. Offers a Preview” (NY Times, August 16, 2015)
The title above is the actual headline of the article, but if you look at the photo you’ll see the teaser that appeared at the top of the front page of the Sports section: “Long extra points make Canada’s league a laboratory for the N.F.L.”
Having read that, it’s not even necessary to read the article; everything you need to know about the American attitude to Canada is already expressed that one word, “laboratory.” This is a classic instance of the way Americans see Canada, and anything that happens here, not as significant in its own right, but only insofar as it could have an impact on the U.S. Canada is visible only through an American lens: the CFL, in the view of the august New York Times, is not an independent national league with its own long football tradition (the league was founded in 1958, but the first Grey Cup was awarded in 1909); it’s nothing more than a development league, a “laboratory” where rules experiments can be tested in a consequence-free environment before they’re incorporated into the NFL, where the games, and therefore the rules by which they are played, really matter.
The attitude continues in the article:
The National Football League will also introduce longer extra points this season, and with its two-month head start, the C.F.L. has become a test laboratory for the new extra-point rule, which will add more uncertainty to games, and perhaps more excitement. (S6)
The phraseology is a little more gentle there, making the CFL’s status as a laboratory sound more like an accident of chronology than an essential aspect of its nature, but the idea persists.
And later in the article we get this:
Higgins, Daniel and Bede all said that the kickers in the N.F.L. were generally superior to their C.F.L. colleagues…. (S6)
So even the key CFL figures who are quoted in the article (Alouettes coach Tom Higgins, CFL statistician Steve Daniel, and Alouettes kicker Boris Bede) admit that the CFL is inferior to the NFL. (I’m not saying this isn’t the case, of course, only that it’s another element of the paternalistic view of Canada expressed in the article.)
All this shows that football is yet another arena in which Americans tend to look down on Canadians and see us as their adorable, bumbling little cousins, not up to the high professional standards set by leagues and athletes in the U.S., but still trying our best to keep up, and occasionally useful when we allow Americans a glimpse of how rules changes might work out in their own league — though needless to say (except that, of course, they do say it), the much higher skill level of NFL players makes the comparison a bit tenuous.