July 18, 2023

“Running out of that tunnel is a privilege that I’ll never take for granted.”

They are a series of life lessons Kenny Lawler has had to choke down and learn the hard way. They tested him, tried his patience and certainly had him doubting his future with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Canadian Football League.

And so, when the veteran receiver got the news last Friday that his days on the suspended list were over and his return has been green lighted – he’ll be in the lineup for this Thursday’s home game against the Edmonton Elks after missing the first third of the season – well, let’s just say there were some pent-up emotions that exploded like a volcano.

Interestingly, it was Wade Miller who delivered the news to Lawler in a phone call after the Blue Bombers President & CEO first tried to tell him in person but found no one at home.

“I got a phone call from Darren (Cameron, the Blue Bombers Senior Director of Public and Player Relations) telling me to call Wade,” began Lawler in a chat with “When you get a call telling you to call Wade… I didn’t know what to expect, but Darren did tell me it was good. And when I talked to Wade he asked if I had talked to my lawyer yet and I said, ‘the last thing I heard we’re at this stage in the process’ and he was like, ‘No. It’s done.’

“I got up and just screamed, ‘Let’s go!’ My girl was beside me and she was screaming. It was a great moment. I tried not to cry. I held them in pretty good, but it was an emotional moment when I got the news I was going to be playing again and I don’t have to worry about being deported or not be able to play here in Canada.

“I feel like I’ve established something here that I want to grow. I love the Canadian community as well as the Canadian game. We’re here full time. I love it here. I honestly do. And it would have been hard to leave. So, when I got that news from Wade a whole lot of weight had been lifted from my shoulders.”

Just to recap what led to the suspension; Lawler missed the first six games of the season due to an immigration issue following an impaired driving charge from 2021 that he pleaded guilty to this spring. Now that he has his temporary resident and work permit papers, he is good to get back to the Blue Bombers’ offensive huddle. But the wait as the process unfolded was excruciating.

“When I first got the news (he was suspended) it was a shock. It came out of left field. But we had the best people around to help with this situation, starting with Wade, who played a big role. We had the best immigration lawyer in the country in Sofia Mirza. I really don’t want to get into the process too much because it was long, tedious, and stressful.

“It takes time. You can’t control it and you’ve just got to wait out the process. One thing I can say is this helped me work on my patience,” said Lawler. “You need to find something you can work on when something is taken away from you. It becomes where can you now challenge the energy you would be giving to something else into something positive. I channelled it into working on my patience and I believe that’s going to pay off in many aspects in my life.”

“I tried not to stress on the situation at hand. It wasn’t something I could control or manipulate to go the way I wanted it to. There were a lot of times I was hearing, ‘It’s going to be another week’ and then you get the news that it’s another week or two. Right then you have a choice to either be mad or lean on everything you’ve been trying to work on – for me, that was the patience part. I found myself working on trying to come to terms with it. But I definitely had some doubts. You’ve just got to fight them and get them out of you head as soon as possible. I try to focus on the good, the positive, reach out to my teammates and see what is going on and somehow stay connected because doubting is not a place I wanted to be in for long.

“I’m a religious person and so I lean on God and when you do that, it can help you find some peace. I’m just glad it’s over.”

Lawler was allowed to work out on his own during the suspension, but not allowed to practice or participate in offensive meetings. He watched the games on television and did stay connected with his teammates with phone calls, texts, and visits.

“It was hard, man,” Lawler said. “It was hard to not be on the sidelines encouraging my guys, trying to uplift them when the game isn’t going in our favour and then being able to celebrate the wins. That was the hardest part. When the locker room is this tight you’ve got a lot of family members on the team it’s just hard being away from them.

“We’re so emotionally invested in this game and when you get it taken away from you for almost two months that disconnect grows. I was worried about that because of not being around. I’ve got to let that out of my head because I know we’ve got such a good locker room these guys are going to embrace me and be happy I’m back out there fighting with them. That’s what makes this place special – that locker room is genuine.”

Lawler will be hosting a free football development camp on July 29th and hopes now to channel that situation – namely, growing from a impaired driving conviction – into something positive by speaking at schools in the fall and through the winter.

“How have I changed? It’s the way I think, the way I carry myself now,” he said. “I’m more conscious of that because I know my life could have been taken and that I have a responsibility and obligation to give back and help others not to be in that situation. Now I want to give guidance and mentorship in that aspect of my life and use that experience to help others.

“I just really don’t take anything for granted any more, especially life. I don’t take any day for granted any more. Any day I can impact or uplift anybody, I’m trying to be as selfless as possible now, whether it’s in the locker room or at home. That’s what I want to promote.”

Lawler’s impact on the offence will be obvious as one of the CFL’s most dangerous receiving threats. And Thursday all the stress that came from the last six weeks will morph into excitement in a return to the Blue Bombers that had been delayed. One chapter – the one with so many tough times and ultimately personal growth – has closed. What begins next is almost a fresh new start.

“It’s going to be emotional coming out that tunnel for the first time and seeing all those fans looking down with smiles,” Lawler said. “It’s going to be such a great feeling… something I can’t even put into words. It’s something I’ve been waiting for because this community is in my heart. Running out of that tunnel is a privilege that I’ll never take for granted.”