Women’s groups baf­fled over Briles scan­dal as team’s apolo­gies miss mark

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SCOTT RADLEY

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.”

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