Fatherhood is helping Montreal Alouettes receiver Jake Wieneke deal with the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 CFL regular season remains on hold due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. The earliest it will begin is September, but commissioner Randy Ambrosie has also stated a cancelled campaign remains possible.
The six-foot-four, 215-pound Wieneke enjoyed a solid first season with Montreal. The 25-year-old American was the East Division's top rookie last year after registering 41 catches for 569 yards and eight touchdowns.
But Wieneke remains in his hometown of Maple Grove, Minn., awaiting word of when — or if — an abbreviated '20 season will begin. Fortunately, he has more pressing duties as a first-time father after Wieneke's wife delivered a baby boy roughly two months ago.
"I've been working out getting everything ready," the South Dakota State product said Friday during a videoconference. "He (baby) is seven weeks old so the last seven weeks I've been taking care of him and spending a lot of time learning to be a dad.
"It's been a lot of fun."
Wieneke, 25, said he'd been working as a substitute physical education teacher at a middle school not far from his residence before it closed due to the pandemic. Wieneke, his wife and the baby are living with Wieneke's parents, thus easing the financial burden created by the outbreak.
Maple Grove is located roughly 28 kilometres northwest of Minneapolis, where George Floyd — an unarmed Black man — died May 25 while in police custody. His death sparked massive protests and unrest globally against police brutality and racism.
"It was heart-breaking what happened to George Floyd," Wieneke said. "It's now probably been about a month since that happened and there's been a lot of good, I think, that's come from it.
"It's been pretty cool to be here and (be) able to go down to the memorial and witness some petty cool things going on and people coming together to finally stand up and make a change."
Wieneke remains optimistic about a '20 CFL season. But many have publicly expressed their frustration with the slow pace of talks between the league and CFL Players' Association.
On Wednesday, 28-year-old Montreal running back James Wilder Jr. retired, in part because he'd grown weary of the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season. But Wieneke is choosing to take a more laid-back approach.
"That (uncertainty) can be frustrating," Wieneke said. "The biggest thing (is) we want to play football . . . it seems like it's been a long off-season.
"It's actually been kind of fun for me, it's been cool just to learn to love and enjoy the process, even the off-season. I'm pretty hopeful we will have a season. I have friends in other leagues, the NFL and stuff, and they do seem to have more of a concrete plan of when they're going to start and everything but I think we'll get there in the CFL."
There's been a host of football players recently — both in the NCAA and NFL — to test positive for the novel coronavirus. But should the CFL season be played, Wieneke expressed confidence the necessary precautions would be taken.
"I've heard of instances where athletes have got the coronavirus," he said. "But I haven't heard of too many people getting tremendously sick, at least young athletes getting sick, so I guess it's not a huge concern for me personally.
"But also I don't want to put anyone else in harm's way. I think with the proper precautions that have been in place, we as people have been doing a good job of controlling it . . . and doing everything we can to not spread it."
If games are played in Canada, chances are they'd be in empty stadiums. Wieneke admits that certainly would be different, but players could adjust accordingly.
"There's nothing better than having a home game in Montreal with the fans going crazy with the thrill and excitement," he said. "Playing football is playing football and so either way it would be fun, but playing in front of fans is kind of why we do it."
Wieneke played collegiately at South Dakota State (2014-17). When he graduated, he did so as the Missouri Valley Conference's leader in career catches (288), receiving yards (5,157) and TDs (59).
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press