Jock Climie: from the gridiron to the bar
If you’ve ever watched the CFL on TSN, you know who Jock Climie is: an analyst; a former slotback for the Toronto Argonauts, Ottawa Rough Riders, and Montreal Allouettes; and a three-time East Division All-Star. You may even know that he played university football at Queen’s. What many may not realize, however, is that Climie is a Queen’s Law graduate and a practicing labour and employment lawyer at Emond Harnden LLP in Ottawa. Juris Diction recently had the opportunity to sit down with Climie and discuss playing in the CFL while in law school, lessons he learned from those experiences, and his thoughts on legal issues touching the football world today.
Juris Diction (JD): When did you decide that you wanted to be a lawyer?
Jock Climie (JC): It was always in the back of my head, but I didn’t know much about it. My moment of inspiration came in an industrial relations course that I took in third-year undergrad. It’s a course offered through the school of business. I had Professor [Rick] Jackson—who has recently retired—and I was inspired by this course. It was all about labour relations and we did essentially a moot on arbitration. A third-year law student came in and played the role of the arbitrator and we presented our cases to him. I was the only one in my group of five students who was interested in doing the speaking. I did the whole thing myself and loved it. This law student, whoever he is, I’ll never forget, when he was going through his comments said “And you, Mr. Climie, this is what you should be doing for a living.” I think I applied for my LSAT the next day.
JD: And you continued your studies while you were in the CFL?
JC: My first year of law school was my fourth year of Queen’s football. The year after, I went to the Queen’s law school and said to the Dean, “Look, I’ve just been drafted into the CFL, but the season runs June through to November. Obviously you can’t do that and go to law school. Would you be willing to allow me to come one semester at a time and do winter semester only?” No one was doing that at the time, they didn’t have part-time law students. They didn’t have accommodations like that for anybody. I just went ahead and asked if they’d be willing to do this and they very graciously agreed.
JD: How hard was it to play five months a year and then work for the rest rather than resting and training?
JC: People have always sort of made a big deal of that, as if I was doing something remarkable. I didn’t think it was that way at all. I thought I had the best of both worlds. I got to be a professional football player for half the year and everything that goes along with that and then for the other half of the year I got to be a student who actually had some money in the bank. I thought that was a great life. In retrospect I wish that I had perhaps taken time off in the offseason as all of my teammates did. All they do is train, work out, hang out, have a great seven months when I was hitting the books or practicing as a lawyer. That’s what I did my whole 12 years I played. I never took it easy. One offseason I went travelling. Sometimes I regret that decision [not to take time off], but I was very focused on moving my law career forward.
JD: Did you find that anything from playing football translated over to law school and your career or the other way around?
JC: I think you pick up lessons everywhere in whatever you do. There’s no question that the sort of discipline it takes to be a good student is a similar substance to what you need to excel in sports. Lots of people don’t succeed in school because they blow things off. They just don’t have a sense of accountability or responsibility and they just wing things. You can’t wing it as a professional football player and in law school you can’t totally wing it if you want to get a good mark, which I did. Those years taught me something that I’ve always maintained for the rest of my life and that’s balance … You’ve got to find a way to exercise your mind. You have to find a way to exercise your body and you have to have some fun. I certainly had a lot of fun. People thought that I must have been this uptight guy and all I did was study and train but I did my fair share of partying at Queen’s and made a lot of great friends who are still friends today.
JD: The NFL has been in the news a lot lately with domestic abuse suits and other legal issues. Both from your legal expertise, and also from your experience playing professional football, do you have any unique insight on what’s going on?
JC: I do. What I see playing out in the media every day is a principle in labour law called “off-duty conduct.” Employers are entitled to discipline their employees for misconduct that occurs outside the workplace if that misconduct relates in some way back to the employer. It’s a concept that is not widely understood or known outside of labour law circles but there is a great deal of jurisprudence on this.
For example, if you are charged with stealing televisions and you work at an electronics store, it might be easy to say “What happens outside of my working hours is irrelevant to you, employer, so why are you even talking to me about this? It’s none of your business.” The employer can say, “Well, wait a second here. You’re stealing TVs and you work in a store where you have access to TVs all day long.” Or you work with a number of women, maybe it’s a predominantly female workplace and you’re a man who has just been charged or convicted of spousal assault. It may be that your co-workers no longer want to work with you. There are many examples along the lines of what I’m talking about.
What’s interesting about what’s going on in the NFL is the scope of that off-duty conduct is widening. If I would suggest to you 20 years ago, nobody in the front office of the NFL would even raise an eyebrow about an NFL player being charged with spousal assault, punching his wife. He might not like it, but I suspect most of them would have said “That’s your problem, that’s your business.”
JD: Is there an argument to be made that these players have a public role and seeing them playing for the team could cause the team to lose money?
JC: The connection is, in fact, what I was talking about in terms of off-duty conduct. The NFL, in part of its marketing strategy, has built itself a reputation for being leaders in the community and for being role models. It decided that that’s what it is. It could say “We’re a bunch of rough and tumble men and sometimes we behave badly and that’s what we are” and they could have decided to go that route. They haven’t. They’ve decided on the squeaky clean, “We are America’s game.”
When you have players who are acting publicly or in the public eye, in a way that tarnishes that reputation, now that off-duty conduct is impacting the brand. That is why they can make it their business. There’s no question that people think less of the NFL when they see Ray Rice punching his now wife.
JD: Are these players being unfairly judged by public opinion before the legal process can play itself out?
JC: In the two cases that have been front and centre—Ray Rice and the Peterson case—that’s actually not the case. Only because in the Rice case we have a video where we see him punch her and knock her unconscious. If not for that video, the Rice issue would just be one more spousal assault case winding its way through the court system that the NFL needs to deal with. There’s been dozens of those over the years.
JD: What about the case of Aaron Hernandez, who’s in court, and not convicted of murder, but was released instantly by the Patriots?
JC: What I tell my employers in those situations is that you need to do your own investigations and come up with your own conclusions as to whether or not the person is guilty. I don’t care if someone hasn’t been convicted in court, if I conclude as the employer that they have done this misdeed.
Occasionally in law, the mere fact that you’ve been charged would be enough to be grounds for termination. For example, if you’re charged with sexually assaulting a child and you’re a daycare worker, you’re going to be fired immediately. You haven’t been convicted, but there is no way that you can employ someone who has been charged with that kind of offence. So there are times when that happens.
It may be that because of the seriousness of the charge—I don’t know what the Patriots had on Hernandez in terms of evidence—it could be that, just like the Rice case where they did not go and seek the video, the Patriots may have sought the evidence of what the police had against Hernandez and were able to conclude for themselves, before a jury does, that he did the thing or something that was enough to get him off the team.
Going back to the Peterson case, Peterson admitted he whipped his child with a switch. Had he said, “I didn’t do it. It’s not true. My wife did it,” it may be that he would not have been suspended. If you didn’t have conclusive evidence that he did something that goes against your principles, how do you suspend him? In this case, they would say, “He admitted it. That’s not what we believe in. That kind of behaviour off the field does not reflect well on our team or the league and that’s why we’re going to take this action.”
JD: In the past couple of years, a number of football players have brought lawsuits against their respective leagues for damages resulting from concussions, most recently Arland Bruce this past summer. How do you react to these?
JC: I think a lot of people are confused about these concussion legal actions. People assume that it’s automatic that if you got a concussion while playing a sport you may have a cause of action. All you have to do is apply the legal principles you’re learning in law school now to know that that’s not fully going to be the case. The thing that gave the NFL lawsuit traction was the idea that the NFL knew more than it was sharing and withheld information. A lot of people asked me after the Arland Bruce lawsuit, that if I had concussions as a CFL player, would I consider suing the CFL? Absolutely not. Would I if I knew that the CFL knew that concussions give you an 80 per cent better chance of developing Parkinson’s and there was medical evidence to that effect that they were hiding from me? Sign me up for the lawsuit. If they don’t know any better than I do what the long-term effects of concussions are, then, well it’s a dangerous sport. Why do you think we wear helmets? Because it’s dangerous. There’s nobody who can say they played football without knowing they were putting themselves in harm’s way. The thing about the NFL suit that made it different was that notion that they purposely withheld information from the players and from the fans because they didn’t want anybody taking away from their game.
JD: What was your favourite thing about Queen’s Law?
JC: Law games. Hands down. The best thing about doing five years of law school instead of three was that I got to go to five Law Games. It’s just sports and partying and I don’t know what could be better in life than those two things together in one weekend.
JD: And your favourite course?
JC: Good question. Probably Advanced Crim with Don Stuart. I had him for a number of subjects and my advanced crim course was great. I actually ended up getting the prize in that course, which I never had before or since. I was really surprised to get that prize but I think it was because I was inspired and loved it.
JD: Thank you for chatting with us, it’s been really interesting to hear your perspectives!
JC: You’re welcome.
Adam (2L) is the Editor-in Chief of Juris Diction.
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