Rarely are pro athletes prepared for the end of their playing days, but Jean-Philippe Bolduc says a joint venture between the CFL and CFL Players’ Association will give players in Canada an opportunity to look at life after football.
The former Ottawa Redblacks defensive back is among six players selected to participate in a mentorship program being offered by both the league and players’ union. The initiative will give participants a look into the business side of league operations.
“In any pro sports at any level ... multi-millionaire guys are not being prepared for [their] post pro career,” Bolduc said during a video conference Tuesday. “The only football job I ever had was playing football ... so it will be interesting for me to see how this works.
“As a player I spent a few years negotiating a CBA and we always saw it [from] the other end. Now I’ll be able to see how [CFL officials] see things, why they do things.”
The program will be held March 7-11, starting in Toronto, where participants will work with CFL and team officials. They’ll also be involved in the Ontario regional combine, which will be held March 10 in Kitchener, Ont.
Bolduc played four seasons with Ottawa (2016-19) before retiring last summer. The Montreal native won a Grey Cup with the Redblacks as a rookie and appeared in 61 career regular-season games, registering 15 tackles, 53 special-teams tackles, an interception and forced fumble.
Bolduc is currently working as a lumber trader in Montreal for Boscus Canada Inc., a wholesaler, distributor and international broker.
Joining Bolduc in the program will be Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther, Edmonton Elks defensive lineman Stefan Charles, Hugh O’Neill; Brian Simmons; and Kenny Stafford. O’Neill and Stafford are current free agents while Simmons has also retired.
Bolduc, 31, is very content with his post-football career but said he’ll head to Toronto with an open mind.
“Before the pandemic, I thought when I was done playing I’d still be involved in [football] somehow, either coaching or any other role,” Bolduc said. “The pandemic brought other opportunities for me so I was able to move on.
“I actually have a good career and I like what I do but I’m curious to see if there are any opportunities for me to still be involved (in football), or if I’ll even like it. I’ll get a glimpse of what a job in football is without necessarily committing myself for a whole career.”
There’s no shortage of former CFL players currently in league positions, either as coaches or in the front office. A few include John Hufnagel (Calgary Stampeders president/GM), Geroy Simon (Edmonton Elks assistant GM), Jeremy O’Day (Saskatchewan Roughriders GM), Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea (GM, head coach, respectively, of Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers), Mike (Pinball) Clemons (Toronto Argonauts GM), Orlondo Steinauer (Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach/football operations president) and Khari Jones (Montreal Alouettes head coach).
Charles, 33, is all for more players having an opportunity to explore opportunities in football after leaving the field.
“For the most part, football life as a career or even [for] amateurs, is pretty short,” said Charles. “You never now when your last snap will be, what an injury could do or where it could lead.
“I think having this program is definitely something pro-active (where) players can take an opportunity to try and extend whatever their situation may be. I think it’s good to have that conversation and be able to have that conversation with people to see if there’s even an opportunity for a person to try and extend that opportunity.”
And like Bolduc, Charles is going into the initiative with no preconceived notions.
“For the most part, I don’t know what to expect,” said Charles. “I’m real eager to see what can happen.
“I’m real excited to see the young talent coming out at the combine and seeing what I can give them based on what my experience was like [at combine] and if I can give them some value in their experience as they compete hopefully for a career in football.”
The mentorship program is part of the CFLPA Academy, which was established in 2016. It provides active and retired members, as well as their families, assistance in career and personal development outside of pro football.
Players and alumni develop skills to transition into career paths within football, the sports community or other business environments.
“The CFLPA Academy and its partners have provided over 1,700 opportunities for members and alumni to refine and enhance a wide range of skills that will help ensure their success away from the playing field,” CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay said in a statement.
Added CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie: “As players, you are so focused on capturing the Grey Cup and bringing joy and pride to your city and fans, but there is also life beyond the field to consider. Our players give their all to our great game, and we must do better to support them, whether in the off-season or once their playing days have come to an end.
“The player mentorship program is an investment in our players’ futures and also in the future of our communities. It’s our promise to help set up our players and alumni for success away from the field, while building a stronger league and country together.”