A year after he made his mark in the Canadian Football League as one of the Baltimore Football Club's better wide receivers, Walter Wilson is just a frustrated free agent.
Wilson has filed a union grievance against Baltimore and the expansion Memphis Mad Dogs, claiming that one of those teams violated the league's collective bargaining agreement with the CFL Players Association by waiving him last week, after he had injured his shoulder in Baltimore's final exhibition game.
According to the agreement, veteran players cannot be released if they are unfit to play.
"I am somebody's [financial] responsibility," Wilson said.
As of now, that is not the case. Wilson, who was due to earn $37,000 with Baltimore this season, is a free agent drawing neither a salary nor medical insurance to pay for treatment he said he requires.
Baltimore coach Don Matthews expects an arbitrator to rule against Memphis, adding that Baltimore broke no rules by waiving Wilson.
The day after the BFC's 37-0 preseason victory over Birmingham, Baltimore placed Wilson on waivers, where he was claimed by Memphis. A day later, the Mad Dogs put Wilson on waivers. After he went unclaimed, Memphis released him, making him a free agent.
"He [Wilson] was never cut from our team. We put him on waivers. Since Memphis claimed him, and we awarded him to them, he clearly belongs to Memphis," Matthews said. "When you go on waivers, it doesn't mean you've been cut."
Memphis head coach/general manager Pepper Rodgers said he was unaware that Wilson had been hurt, but added that his injury played no role in the Mad Dogs' decision to waive, then release Wilson.
"After we claimed him, we realized that we didn't have a roster spot for him," Rodgers said. "I never even talked to him."
Wilson, who missed Baltimore's first exhibition game against Ottawa with a groin injury, went down after making a catch in the first quarter of Baltimore's second preseason game against Birmingham.
The next day at the team's training camp facility at Towson State, Wilson said he had trouble lifting his right shoulder. After going home that day, Wilson said he got a call from Memphis, informing him that he had been claimed on waivers.
"My own team couldn't let me know, even though I was in front of them all day," Wilson said. "I had to hear I got waived by some other team."
Said Flynn Owens, Wilson's attorney, "We don't want to burn any bridges. Walt is eager to play football again, and he wants to play somewhere where he's wanted. We believe that once he's healed, he will play a high caliber of football.
"Right now, he's sort of in limbo. Here's a guy who is from Baltimore, and he did a lot for this team last year. He made community appearances. He helped out on the promotional end. He added a local connection to the team. And now he's being left high and dry."
Ed Chalupka, vice president for football operations at the CFL office, said the grievance should be resolved in about a month.
A key issue in Wilson's case is his health. He contends that his shoulder has rendered him unfit to play. Matthews maintains that the team's examination of Wilson after the Birmingham game revealed simply a sore shoulder and a bruised elbow.
With injury grievances, the league requires the player be examined by a neutral physician. Wilson saw one last week. The exam results will be forwarded to the CFL.
Wilson, 28, a graduate of Southern High School who played briefly for the San Diego Chargers in 1990, caught 50 passes for 900 yards and four touchdowns last year in his first CFL season.
In this year's training camp, he lost a battle with wide receiver Shannon Culver, partly due to injuries that limited Wilson's practice time.
"This kills me. I worked hard for them," Wilson said. "I came to camp and kept my mouth shut. I knew this was going to be my last year here, but I wish it didn't end this way."
Said Matthews: "I'm rooting for Walter. I told him Memphis owes him. He belongs to them. Walter didn't do enough or play enough to make our football team."