Women’s groups baffled over Briles scandal as team’s apologies miss mark
Some — perhaps many — in this community may have already turned their attention from the hiring-then-unhiring of a wildly controversial coach by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to Monday’s Labour Day game.
A number of local women’s groups haven’t.
Those who work with victims of domestic and sexual violence are still having a hard time understanding how a man who oversaw a Baylor University program wracked with reports of sexual assaults could have been seen as an acceptable choice to fill a role here. Mea culpas from owner Bob Young and CEO Scott Mitchell notwithstanding.
And after hearing the latter’s explanations, they’re not sure he really grasps what the problem was.
“It’s not like this was a PR gaffe,” says Lenore Lukasik-Foss, director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Hamilton and Area. “This was a massive, massive public trust issue that they failed at.”
Most troubling to her is the admission that Art Briles — a man who was head coach at the Texas university during a time when as many as 52 rapes by football players were reported — was rejected as an assistant coach only after the public and media exploded with anger and indignation. To her, that’s a concerning lack of community leadership.
“The decision had to be made because it was the wrong decision,” she says.
“Because it was not the right thing in our community. Not because of the outrage.”
For that reason — among others — she questions whether Mitchell gets it. She echoed that phrase several times. And she wasn’t alone.
Denise Christopherson, CEO of the Hamilton YWCA, says she, too, was concerned about some of the things she was hearing during Mitchell’s news conference earlier this week when he admitted the wrong decision had been made. Is she still? “Well yeah,” she says. Christopherson and Interval House executive director Nancy Smith expressed pride that so many people across the community made clear their condemnation of the move. That included Barry’s Jewellers, a team sponsor that immediately expressed its disgust at the hire.
Barry’s Jewellers spokesperson Simon MacDougall Sadava says the company is thrilled the Ticats reversed course but was surprised they were the only sponsor to publicly speak up.
“It seemed like a no-brainer to do,” he says. “Why wouldn’t you speak out about something like this?”
But Christopherson says the fact that it was only the outrage that prompted a response didn’t impress her any more than it impressed Lukasik-Foss or Smith.
She says she would’ve told the Ticats they were making a mistake before the hiring if she’d had the chance.
During his news conference, Mitchell said he spoke to women’s groups prior to hiring Briles. None of Lukasik-Foss, Smith — whose organization helped craft the CFL’s violence-against-women policy — or Christopherson say they got a call from him.
“I don’t know of any women’s organization that was consulted before this hiring,” Christopherson says. “I can assure you that any organization dealing with survivors or providing women’s services would have raised alarm bells.”
All three say they now hope this won’t just be shoved aside as the 24hour — or 72-hour, in this case — news cycle churns onto another topic. Instead, they hope they can move the discussion forward.
Mitchell said the franchise has done much work with women’s groups, and it will be doing even more.
Lukasik-Foss says the Ticats owe all local survivors of sexual assault a public apology as a start. Christopherson tweeted Young asking for a meeting.
He quickly responded that he would have someone from the team set it up.
In the meantime, would she go to Monday’s game if she had a ticket?
“I’m not sure that I would this week,” she says. “I’m still processing.”
What about Lukasik-Foss, the daughter of a one-time Alouette and sister of football-playing brothers? Would she go?
“I don’t think so,” she says. “I don’t think I’d go on Monday. I’d need to see something happen before I’d go again.”