Swept under the rug

Last week I linked to Samantha Beattie’s article in the Huffington Post from my Facebook page, which detailed her experience training with and competing for the University of Guelph cross country and track and field teams. Beattie’s story is significant and needs to be highlighted again so that it is not lost in the events of the past week, which I will get into later.

In recounting her time at Guelph, Beattie describes a toxic team culture in which women were pressured to train and race while injured, encouraged to lose weight, and then neglected when they inevitably broke down physically or mentally. In Samantha’s own words: “My experience was one of microaggressions and indifference that cut me down over and over again until I believed I was so fundamentally flawed that I shouldn’t be on the team.” While reading the article I was struck by the similarities between Samantha’s and Mary Cain’s experiences within toxic and abusive running programs. In both the Guelph/Speed River and NOP programs, races and titles were won at the expense of the physical and mental health of female athletes. The collateral damage was athletes who suffered from eating disorders, injuries, and mental illness. These athletes were then gaslighted into believing it was their fault for not being good enough.

Samantha was not alone in her experience at Guelph. Her article, as well as Michael Doyle’s expose that broke the story of Scott-Thomas’ sexual abuse of Megan Brown paint a greater picture of irresponsible and unethical coaching practices as well as psycological abuse of student-athletes. Many of us who were outside observers saw patterns of distance runners, particularly women, in that program losing weight and/or racing injured. Some of them became too broken to continue in the sport. As stated in Doyle’s article, “one former student described the women’s team as ‘one big eating disorder’ that Guelph and Mr. Scott-Thomas struggled to manage.” It is clear that there was abuse, toxicity, and unethical behaviour within the University of Guelph/Speed River program that has not yet come to light. It is also clear that people in leadership positions other than Dave Scott-Thomas helped perpetuate and enable this toxic culture.

It is important that we speak publicly about the abuse and toxicity that happened in Guelph, even if it is difficult, painful, and uncomfortable to do so. We need to hold individuals and institutions responsible for their complicity. We need open discussion about why this was allowed to happen and what can be done to prevent it in the future. Based on the lack of response by the University of Guelph and Athletics Canada in 2006 and the refusal of both to take responsibility when Megan Brown’s story broke earlier this year, one could assume that institutions and organizations are more interested in protecting their public image than they are in having this important conversation.

This brings us to Queen’s University and the firing of cross country head coach Steve Boyd. I will not list the medals and titles that the Queen’s Cross Country team won under Steve Boyd’s leadership. In this context, it does not matter whether Boyd coached a winning team or not. What does matter is that Boyd built a distance running program at Queen’s that succeeded because it was the opposite of Guelph’s ‘win at all costs’ culture. Boyd consistently prioritizes athlete physical and mental health over results and encourages a culture of open and honest communication rather than silence and neglect. This positive team culture that he has built over the past ten years at Queen’s fosters healthy long term athlete development and empowers athletes to continue to enjoy the sport long after their collegiate years.

In his strong advocacy for safety and fairness in sport, Boyd does not hesitate to condemn abuses of power in any form. He and other Canadian coaches repeatedly and over the span of several years called out Guelph and Speed River leadership for unethical actions and abuses of power. Doing so subjected Boyd to (mostly anonymous) attacks on his credibility, yet he persisted because it was the right thing to do. Staying silent, while easier, was incompatible with his drive to protect the integrity of our sport and the athletes involved in it.

Earlier this month, the most egregious example of abuse in Guelph was brought to the attention of the public when Megan Brown spoke on record to the Globe & Mail. While Queen’s University administrators and others in the media have attempted to present Megan Brown’s story and Steve Boyd’s firing as completely separate and unrelated, this way of thinking is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous. Less than a week before Boyd was fired, he was given a verbal warning by the Queen’s Athletics Director Leslie Dal Cin. In Boyd’s words, “she said I couldn’t talk about Dave Scott-Thomas or the University of Guelph in any matter – I could think about it, and that’s about it.”

Indeed, Athletics Ontario issued a policy reminder yesterday* in light of the events of the past month: “On top of these unfortunate events there has been a trend to engage in expressing opposing opinions on various social media platforms, in a negative manner.” Athletics Ontario warned its members to “refrain from public criticism of other members of the athletics community.” Timing and context is important here; Athletics Ontario issuing this statement in the wake of Megan Brown and Samantha Beattie detailing the abuse (sexual and psychological in Megan’s case, psychological in Samantha’s) they suffered while at Guelph could be interpreted as an attempt to muzzle attempts by athletes and coaches to call out abusers publicly. Throughout the #MeToo movement, abusers have been outed largely through news media and social media. Survivors used these channels as a means of speaking out and naming their abusers precisely because the existing system of reporting had failed them.

Megan Brown’s story shook the Canadian running community and led to public outcry not only over the abuse she suffered, but also how the University of Guelph and Athletics Canada saw it fit to protect her abuser, to the detriment of her running career and mental health. In making our sport a safe place for all athletes we can require coaches to be educated, certified, and screened, but we also need to get these transgressions out in the open and vocally condemn all those responsible, perpetrators and enablers alike. Yet the response by multiple institutions and organizations suggests a desire (to paraphrase Megan Brown’s coach Hugh Cameron) “to sweep it under the rug.” They couch it in language of policies and codes of conduct but the intent is clear.

Stifling discussion in order to protect the reputations of institutions and people in power will only make it more difficult for victims to speak out and come forward. The inaction of the University of Guelph and Athletics Canada over Dave Scott-Thomas’ abuse and the attempts by Queen’s University and Athletics Ontario to stifle an honest dialogue on the subject cannot be understood as separate; they are two sides of the same coin. Their actions all reflect a propensity to avoid negative publicity, even when doing so causes harm to athletes.

 

*Note that the original post on athleticsontario.ca was removed, then replaced with a different statement on February 26th, presumably after criticism from AO members. I felt it was important to save and post the original wording of the policy reminder.

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8 Responses to Swept under the rug

  1. Boyd Fleck says:

    Formal Complaint regarding Steve Boyd of Kingston, Ontario

    We are writing as a group of united individuals who have endured ongoing insults, bullying, and harassment from one individual named Steve Boyd.

    Boyd is a former competitive runner and now a running coach in Kingston, Ontario. He coaches cross country running and track at Queens University and also has a running club in Kingston called Physi-Kult running club.

    Our complaints are as follows:

    A) Steve Boyd uses a website called trackie.ca to regularly engage in cyber-bullying. The owner of the website Adam Stacey allows him to do so.

    We have approached Mr Stacey on several occasions and he has refused to take action against Boyd.

    We believe that Boyd and Stacey are close friends and as such Boyd is protected by Stacey.

    Stacey will heavily edit or even delete any post that anyone makes, in which they disagree with Boyd.

    As a result, Boyd has a monopoly on that website and has abused this power to attack anyone and everyone from ethnic minorities (who he pushes off the website) to disabled athletes to anyone who writes anything that is politically incorrect.

    B) Steve Boyd is what is known in the internet world as a ‘politically correct social justice warrior (PC SJW)’. Someone who acts offended on behalf of minorities. An act of clearly disingenuous nature.

    So why is he doing this? Is it because he has minorities as relatives? No.
    Is it because he has minorities as friends? No.
    Is it because he coaches minorities? No.

    He does it to raise his status among that (pathetic) liberal running community. So that those rather sad hypocritical individuals will give him a pat on the back and that will make him feel good about himself and his miserable life.

    C) His ongoing, embarrassing, disingenuous and out-right disgusting support of man-beast caster semenya was of particular interest. This Y chromosome hermaphrodite (and others like him) has stolen medals from real women for the past ten years. Including robbing Canadian Melissa Bishop of an Olympic Gold medal.

    Yet, simply to raise his status among that liberal community, Boyd would regularly applaud and praise this man-beast on the trackie website and relentlessly attack and intimidate anyone who disagreed with him.

    In the end, that coward Adam Stacey even blocked people from posting comments that were in disagreement with this PC SJW.

    D) Boyd recently started a smear campaign on trackie against a former runner from Kingston who was chosen to present medals at the annual OFSAA track meet. Why? Because in his oh-so holy mind, she was not suitable because of something that had happened thirty years ago. OFSAA (sadly) eventually told her not to attend their event.

    E) As an aftermath of disagreements on the trackie website, Boyd has been emailing and harassing for two years, a respected physician in the United States. Insulting his appearance, his cultural background and his running ability. This physician filed a complaint with Athletics Canada, which essentially went nowhere.

    F) Boyd has pushed for the termination of at least three coaches at Ontario running clubs due to his abuse of power and desire to steal athletes away from them.

    G) Boyd has been at war with coaches at Ontario high schools, disrespecting them and telling their athletes not to attend their school practices and to come to his Physi-Kult club practices instead. This led to a landmark ruling where OFSAA created a mandatory attendance policy for club athletes who are on school teams. A rule that has essentially destroyed cross country and track programs at Ontario high schools.

    H) He has on a regular basis publicly criticized the Speed River track club in Guelph, Ontario. Most likely out of jealously due to their outstanding success in recent years. Boyd claims that their athletes and coaches are receiving funding that he should be receiving instead. All of this creates a rather sour atmosphere among the elite athletes that should not have to deal with such nonsense.

    I) While the rest of the world is dealing with important and crucial issues like global warming, poverty, famine, disease, education, employment etc. This rather sad individual is obsessed with making cross country races the same distance for boys and girls. Who cares? This has to be the least important issue of all time. On the surface this may not sound like a valid complaint, but the degree to which he has escalated the issue and disrupted the sport and harassed individuals who are in disagreement with him, is unacceptable and intolerable. He claims that he is a feminist, but the truth is he does not care about girls or women. He only cares about his own ego and status among that all white male distance runner fraternity (AWMDRF).

    We are led to believe that either this Boyd individual is protected by people in high positions of power in the Ontario running scene. Or there is so much fear of retribution that nobody files a formal complaint against him.

    The most arrogant aspect of Boyd is that all of his offensive, abusive and intimidating posts are there on trackie for everyone to see. Also we have been collecting and saving all the emails he sends privately to people he is cyber-bullying.

    Our goals are as follows:

    1) We want his coaching Job at Queens University to be terminated
    2) We want Athletics Canada to cancel his hosting of the national cross country meet
    3) We want Athletics Ontario to close his Physi-Cult running club
    4) We want him banned from participation in any and all road races in Ontario

    As we hope you can clearly see, such an individual has no place in the Ontario running scene. Not as a coach, not as a mentor, not as a host of a running event and not as a participant either. Simply stated, he is cancer for the sport.

    We sincerely hope that our voices will be heard. This has gone on for many years now with us. Who knows how long it has gone on with other people. If you have been affected, please come forward with your story.

    We have approached attorneys about these complaints and we have good news to share: we have enough evidence compiled for a case to be filed in Ontario against this individual and therefore we shall proceed with one at this time.

    Please keep in mind that all athletes coach by Steve Boyd are also being warned to cease all relationship with him. This type of legal mess is not something they want or deserve.

    We have much more to share, but this is our initial message. We will be in touch.

    • Clive Morgan says:

      Wow! So much vitriol in these comments. If you truly believe in what you have stated here, why are you not commenting under your true name? This is clearly something you have been pushing for years. Several of these ‘issues’ are long past. The gender equality issue has been settled. National XC was successfully hosted by Physi-Kult from 2015 to 2018 in Kingston, Abbotsford BC is now the host for Nationals. I expect we won’t see or hear anything from you regarding a lawsuit against Steve. All smoke and mirrors.
      By the way, you might as well post under your real name, we all know who you are anyway. And please, stop referring to yourself as ‘we’, you are alone in this.

    • Slamer says:

      ^^ This poster is likely “Dr.” Asad Raza, who’s the ultimate troll and a person that needs serious help. Take his “comment” is a heavy bag of salt.

      • Andrew Jones says:

        Correct…hard to believe that this person has set themselves up to help people. I would hope that his professional college has knowledge of his attitudes and would take appropriate action.

  2. Andrew Jones says:

    “His ongoing, embarrassing, disingenuous and out-right disgusting support of man-beast caster semenya was of particular interest. This Y chromosome hermaphrodite (and others like him) has stolen medals from real women for the past ten years. Including robbing Canadian Melissa Bishop of an Olympic Gold medal.”

    Wow – any, any credence you may have (and I think there is none) was absolutely blown up by this hatred-laced statement.

    I thought you had skulked away to your hole after you were banned from at least two Athletics online forums, but unfortunately the electronic commons sometimes allows garbage like this from “people” (I use this term ironically) like you.

    Sigh.

    -Andrew Jones

  3. Andrew Jones says:

    Simply a great and insightful commentary on the current situation. Congrats and thanks, Leslie!

  4. Leslie Sexton says:

    Those who read the trackie.ca message boards might recognize “Boyd Fleck” as the poster “ofsaa1992” who harassed multiple trackie posters online. ofsaa1992 went so far as to send mass emails to coaches, Athletics Ontario, and Queen’s demanding that Boyd be fired, banned from coaching, etc. A quick read through the above comment should illustrate how unhinged this individual is (the comments about Caster Semenya are particularly awful) and that his complaints should not be seen as credible. While I would usually simply delete a comment like this, in this situation it could help discredit a previous complainant.

  5. Clive Morgan says:

    Leslie, thank you for writing and posting this. Beautiful and powerful, well said. I am truly sorry you had to read that response from ‘Boyd Fleck’. We had all hoped we had heard the last from him but clearly he has not gone away. To post a reply like that on your thoughtful post was clearly unwarranted but I agree, it needs to be left up. This way others can assess for themselves who these individuals are who have complained to Queen’s in the past.

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