There have been many random acts of kindness displayed by Wally Buono during his run as chief magistrate with the B.C. Lions, but to the self-described benevolent dictator and GM of the CFL club, it does not currently extend to Jabar Westerman.
In fact, after Provincial Court proceedings in his common assault charge Wednesday were held over to Sept. 22, it seemed as if Buono was more worked up than ever about what he knows about the incident, in which Westerman is alleged to have thrown a punch at a Vancouver nightclub bouncer.
He’s still scheduled to dress Friday when the Lions play host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at B.C. Place Stadium, even though he was excused and his team was experimenting with a different front without him at practice.
But Buono still isn’t buying that the Lions are simply dealing with a 25-year-old defensive lineman in a wrong place, wrong time scenario.
There was a contrast as to what’s acceptable conduct for Buono, and it came to him when he spotted his grandson playing with fellow children off to one side after practice on Wednesday.
“[Westerman’s] not that young. See my grandson over there? That’s a young guy. A 25-year-old [like Westerman] who has been around professional sports, who understands the pressure you are under but also the expectations …. I’m 64; I’ve never done that,” said Buono, referencing the alleged punch.
“I’m very pragmatic and a benevolent dictator. I understand when someone is in your face. I’ll listen to that. I have a no issue with a guy defending himself. Be cool, turn your back and leave. If you get physically handled, you’re going to defend yourself.”
What the general manager isn’t interested in hearing is an act of contrition.
“I don’t want to have a well-read statement. I don’t want to have ‘I’m sorry’, ” he said. “When I hear ‘I’m sorry’, I really don’t care. The right thing to do is to have your actions speak for you.”
A club source familiar with the proceedings said Westerman could have the charge dropped if he completes an anger management course and does some community service work in time for his next court date.
However, the sharp tenor of Buono’s comments might make it difficult for Westerman to remain with the club through the final season of his three-year contract.
“If he doesn’t dress, it really doesn’t have anything to do too much with the repetitions he missed [Wednesday],” coach Mike Benevides said, adding it was Buono who would determine Westerman’s long-term future with the Lions.
It’s clear the Lions would like to take a stronger stand, but are limited to a monetary fine under terms of the CFL’s collective bargaining agreement, providing players report to work.
“What I would have hoped is that the CBA would have given us a bit more latitude,” Buono said.
As countless athletes before Westerman have discovered, the job description of a CFL player also includes becoming a role model, even if it is unwanted or unfair.
“I don’t think it’s unfair,” said Lions teammate Marco Iannuzzi, a 27-year-old married father of three who is involved in numerous philanthropic endeavours in the Lower Mainland.
“You have a bull’s-eye on your back. If you’re out in public places you gotta know it’s unfortunate, but you can’t just be a kid again and do stupid things like your friends can do and get away with it. It forces you to grow up faster.
“The one thing that covers it for me is that the kids are watching. Kids can be looking or reading about you even if they aren’t up at the time of day when you’re doing something silly. If it’s something you wouldn’t tell kids, it’s something you shouldn’t be doing.”
There’s still a support network for Westerman with the Lions even if they would like to suspend him for a game.
“Sometimes things happen and you get caught up in situations. We have a great setting for guys to have shoulders to lean on, so when something happens we rally behind them and hope for the best,” linebacker Jamall Johnson said.
It may, however, take a bit of work to assuage the top of the Lions food chain, as it is clear to Buono that the team has taken a collective black eye, even if the charge is ultimately dropped.
“It doesn’t matter. The behaviour, the attention, it’s not positive,” Buono said of Westerman. “He’s at a crossroads. Which road does he take? That’s up to him, not to me.”
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