Head Coach of Cross-Country and Track and Field at Queen’s University, Steve Boyd, was relieved from his position. Thankfully, this is not another story reporting on the sexual abuse of young athletes. In fact, Boyd condemned Dave Scott-Thomas’ behaviour and called for institutions to hold their employees accountable. So far, so good.
But let’s step back for a second before we move forward.
Boyd began coaching at Queen’s University in 2010 and helped to create a successful program; Boyd was the USports Women’s Coach of the Year this past November, where the women’s team was dominant and won the overall banner. Alongside his university coaching program, he coaches other athletes, most notably Lyndsay Tessier, who finished 9th in the marathon at the IAAF World Championships.
It was not Mr. Boyd’s coaching that got him into trouble, but his life outside of coaching. Captured again by Michael Doyle in the Globe and Mail, Boyd was dismissed for “repeatedly engaged in public commentaries that do not reflect the values expected by representatives of Queen’s University. The university is committed to ensuring a safe and respectful environment for its student athletes, and other members of the broader sporting community, of which Queen’s University is a member,” read a statement released by the university.
Canadian Press, in a story by Lori Ewing, confirmed that it was not his coaching that had Boyd fired, but his online presence that did. “Mr. Boyd’s comments follow a pattern of objectionable social media commentary spanning several years, about which he had previously been formally cautioned,” Prof. Tom Harris, Queen’s interim provost, said in a statement Thursday. “Mr. Boyd failed to heed repeated warnings from the administration to stop his reckless social media activities.”
Robyn Mildren, a former University of Guelph athlete, posted about the situation on her personal Facebook page last weekend. Similar to Mildren, many of the athletes that ran under the leadership of Scott-Thomas are conflicted. The debate about who knew what and who did not know anything is not the conversation we should be having. Regardless, we can all agree that undergraduate students are at a vulnerable time in their lives; they move away from home for the first time, they undergo a series of hormonal changes, friends come and go, and you are discovering who you are. I can empathize with being faced with a similar challenge at that age and not really knowing what to do.
What does this have to do with Boyd?
Boyd went on to Mildren’s post and offered his opinions on the matter. How bad could the comments be? That’s not for me to judge, but I will share them with you. In response to Mildren’s post, Boyd said the following:
“Like the abused spouse who hides her partner’s abuse against the kids, the behaviour of Guelph athletes who either said nothing or who actively recruited high schoolers with the knowledge that they too might end up being abused is understandable in many ways, it still does play a role in continuing the abusive situation. To the extent that they too received a good [winning] they are also culpable … Another dramatic way of looking at it is: Everyone in a prison camp is a victim, but they are also collaborators.”
What have we learned? Most importantly, we cannot let Megan Brown’s story be clouded by this recent Boyd dismissal. A good friend of mine said it best: “We cannot let the issues with Boyd discredit Megan’s story; while these issues are intertwined by time, the concerns are separate.” We need to continue to discuss what happened to Megan to create an environment where those subjected to this kind of abuse feel safe and supported. We can put an end to sexual abuse, but only if we offer a supportive and compassionate environment for the victims.
In addition, we would be best to remember that the boundaries between personal and professional life no longer exist—especially if you are vocal in any online communities. Yes, we are entitled to the freedom of speech, but we are also required to be responsible and ethical, and when commenting it is best to be kind. Asking people to be held accountable for their actions, and even condemning proven actions is another topic, but slandering others will not be tolerated. Regardless of all the successes you’ve had and good you bring to this world, unethical behaviour will result in it overshadowing all the good you have done.
I’d like for us to remember the good here. Steve Boyd is a good coach. Steve Boyd stood up for and addressed the wrongfulness in the alleged abusive case of Dave Scott-Thomas. Let’s remember that we are entitled to speak our minds to defend what we believe in. But let’s keep an eye on that line and work within the bounds of ethics and respect.