Cross country coach’s firing says more about Queen’s than his own behaviour

Steve Boyd needs to be reinstated as varsity coach

A Queen’s professor and father of athletes asserts his support for former coach Steve Boyd.

In the middle of Reading Week, Queen’s Athletics hit the front page of The Globe and Mail. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a story about success on the field. The cross country and track coach, Steve Boyd, had been fired.

As the father of two members of the women’s team, and a faculty member at Queen’s, this news hit me like a bomb. The reason for the firing, the treatment of Boyd and the team members, and the behaviour of the administration of this University has left me stunned.

The fact that a coach was fired for publicly calling for more accountability from universities toward athletes is disappointing. The track season for the team has been blown up, and the lives of Steve and all members of the team have been utterly disrupted.

An injustice like this needs to be addressed by the University as soon as possible.

The genesis of this story goes back to December of 2019 when Dave Scott-Thomas, the cross country and track coach for the University of Guelph, was himself fired.

The reasons for his termination detailed in a February 2020 Globe and Mail article, and include a sexual relationship with a runner that began when she was 17 years old. The allegations of Scott-Thomas’ predatory behaviour go back to at least 2006.

I’m not a runner myself, but through my daughters, I know the small community of distance runners in Canada has erupted into an online debate as to how this could happen and what the consequences for Scott-Thomas should be.

As one of the senior running coaches in Canada, Boyd was an active participant in these online debates. They’ve been reported on. Anyone who has access to the Internet can read them and judge for themselves as to the implications of their contents.

Let me summarize my take.

Boyd called for a full investigation into the University of Guelph and Athletics Canada for their continuation of Scott-Thomas’ employment, and he called for accountability and consequences for all those involved. As a father and a member of the academic community, I couldn’t agree more with his comments.

Having known Boyd for several years, he’s opinionated and the very antithesis of political correctness. If you want to hear the unvarnished truth, Boyd delivers it in spades.

It appears Guelph and Queen’s don’t want to hear the truth. But Boyd summarized it perfectly: “It took 13 years for Guelph to fire their coach for what he did, and it took two months for Queen’s to get rid of me for having an opinion about it.”

Since their coach’s firing, the cross country team’s treatment by the Queen’s senior Athletics department administrators has been appalling.

On Wednesday, Feb. 19, one administrator isolated team members in a meeting room in the ARC while another administrator fired Boyd. As Boyd was led off campus by security, these administrators informed the team that he had been “terminated.”

According to my daughters, who are members of the cross country team, the room erupted into chaos, with team members demanding answers and receiving none. The OUA track championships were happening in a few days, and the administration provided the team with no clear plan at the time for a replacement coach or staff member.

The team was blindsided: not one member had been contacted before this meeting by Queen’s administration for their input. In fact, as I understand from my daughters, they were told administrators would be discussing the funding of the team in the near future, which, given the context of the meeting, sounded like a threat to cut the program.

For my daughters, and I’m sure, for many other members of the team, Reading Week is a time to catch up academically and prepare for the homestretch of the term. This opportunity was lost in the chaos of Boyd’s unjust firing.

It’s ironic that this happened just days after former Interim Provost Tom Harris released the Queen’s “Campus Wellbeing Framework.” I’m interested to hear how the Provost’s Office thinks Queen’s decision to fire a successful varsity coach provides “a structure that will support actions across the multiple dimensions of health to promote a culture of care, inclusion and respect.”

Before the meeting, the team was not included in the decision to terminate Boyd’s employment. Following the meeting, little support has been provided for traumatized team members, other than a list of available resources for support.  The athletic and academic aspirations and goals of the team members were given zero consideration or respect by Queen’s administration in coming to this decision.

In the aftermath of this meeting, team members contacted Provost Harris and Principal Deane to discuss the situation. They received no reply. My wife and I also emailed requests to meet with either the provost or the principal, but were met with no reply.

It was not until 54 hours after the initial termination of Boyd, with media pressure building, that Interim Provost Harris and Deputy Provost Teri Shearer sent an email requesting to meet team members on Feb. 25 for one hour.

The email provided the team with no agenda. It also offered no request for input on said agenda. 

The statement on the University’s decision, released by the Provost’s Office on Feb. 21, was disgraceful. It claims that “Mr. Boyd made numerous statements on social media berating and blaming student athletes who were themselves victims and which only served to re-traumatize them […] Mr. Boyd failed to heed repeated warnings from the administration to stop his reckless social media activities.”

Unfortunately, the Provost’s Office doesn’t seem to be aware that anyone can go and look at the online discussion rather than relying on the University’s characterization of it. The statement seems designed to impugn Boyd’s character, and to destroy any chance of a future coaching career for him.

As a father, having watched Boyd coach my two daughters since high school, I can affirm that he has treated them with the utmost respect and dignity. He doesn’t talk down to them, and they’re active parts of their own training process. His coaching has turned around the running program at Queen’s.

In November 2019, the women’s team won the U SPORTS cross country championship for the first time in Queens’ history, and recently, track members broke several long-standing Queen’s records.

The Provost’s Office has publicly stained the reputation of a good man and coach. This is unconscionable.

A final disgraceful incident occurred on Feb. 21 at the OUA track championships at York. Boyd attended the meet as a spectator to provide whatever support he could from the stands for athletes he had coached for months, and in some cases, years.

The meet’s organizers called security and had Boyd removed from the stands on threat of calling police, even though he’s received no formal sanctions from the OUA or U SPORTS.  

In the days after this news, I was contacted by many family members.

After telling my mother about the treatment of Boyd and the team by administration, she paused for a few moments until she said, “It sounds like they all need a good swift kick in the arse.”

I couldn’t agree more, but in the meantime, I call on Queen’s administration to right this wrong by reinstating Steve Boyd.

And, while Queen’s is at it, why not give him a decent salary?

Colin MacDougall is a Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. 

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