On January 8, then-General Manager Eric Tillman of the Canadian Football League Saskatchewan Roughriders quit his job despite a stellar season for the team on the field. Tillman stepped down because four days earlier he had plead guilty to the sexual assault of a 16-year-old babysitter.
(Tillman pleaded guilty to sexual assault in January)
Yesterday, after a 2-8 start, the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos hired Tillman as their General Manager, sparking outrage across the country.
After the hire was made, Eskimos Chairman Doug Goss told the EDMONTON JOURNAL that despite his own children objecting to his hiring of Tillman and opposition countrywide to the move running at around “75 percent“, he was comfortable with the decision.
“Shame on us if we wouldn’t have had the courage of our convictions to do the right thing in face of overwhelming evidence that this is a man who is not only going to bring good football to Edmonton, but he’s not going to do anything to harm our reputation.”
From reaction of many media members and various polls, it appears Goss already has harmed his team’s reputation - at least for now.
So what exactly happened between Tillman and the 16-year-old girl and why would the Eskimos consider hiring Tillman only 10 months after his conviction?
The day Tillman resigned from the Roughriders, CTV reported this:
On Monday, Tillman told a court he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old babysitter who was taking care of his children in 2008.
The court heard that he grabbed her by the hips and pulled her into his body in a “sexual nature.”
His defence lawyer, Aaron Fox, said Tillman wasn’t thinking clearly because he had taken too much medication for his sore back, along with sleep aids.
Tillman was given an absolute discharge after a judge said he believed Tillman was remorseful.
The crime Tillman pleaded to was a misdemeanor and the “absolute discharge” means that Tillman does not have a criminal record. The 16-year-old victim in the case also reportedly told the Eskimos that she’d have no problem with them hiring Tillman. (She also reportedly stated that she didn’t want Tillman to quit as Roughriders GM.)
Despite those seeming mitigating factors, the VANCOUVER SUN reported today that the leader of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton said Tillman’s hiring sent “an absolutely horrible message.”
Karen Smith, executive director of the centre:
“We are outraged at this. I think the move by the Eskimos to put someone with that history in a position of leadership and influence among our young people is outrageous.
“I know that he got a discharge; I know he said he was sorry it happened. He is deserving of being in the community, but he hasn’t shown he deserves a high-profile leadership role in our community.”
The more you examine the facts of this story, the more gray area there appears to be.
Many wouldn’t consider what Tillman did to be “sexual assault” but the law is the law and what he did was inappropriate by any legal definition.
That said, Tillman’s confession and lack of a criminal past, the resulting Court judgement and the attitude of the victim does lend some legitimacy to the Edmonton CFL team’s hire.
At the very most, it might’ve been advisable for some more time to pass before Tillman was back in such a high profile position of leadership. It’d be one thing if Tillman was an anonymous employee, but to be reinstated to such a prestigious position with so much responsibility in the public eye just 10 months after admitting to what Canadian law classifies as sexual assault can’t help but send a mixed message about accountability to a crime.