Queen’s University has dismissed long-time track and field and cross-country coach Steve Boyd, citing Boyd’s statements on social media as the reason for his termination.
According to the Gaels track and field team, they were informed of Boyd’s dismissal on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 – the same day the Globe and Mail published an article asserting that Boyd was fired for his online comments regarding University of Guelph track and field coach Dave Scott-Thomas. Scott-Thomas was dismissed in December of 2019 after over a decade of complaints from students and student’s family members regarding his conduct, including a sexual relationship with a student athlete, Megan Brown, and violating the “the trust inherent in the coaching and mentoring relationship,” the University of Guelph said in a statement.
Complaints against Scott-Thomas date back to 2006, a revelation which fueled much of the shock and outrage that he was kept on staff at the University of Guelph until 2019. It is important to note that during the renewed investigation into his conduct last year, “the University received new information related to the earlier investigation that made it clear that Scott-Thomas had lied repeatedly in 2006 about several significant matters. The receipt of that new information resulted in the termination of Scott-Thomas from his U of G position. Had the University been aware in 2006 of this information, it would have terminated its relationship with Scott-Thomas at that time,” the University of Guelph asserted in that same public statement.
So where does Boyd figure into to all of this? As the news broke of Scott-Thomas’ dismissal and the investigation into his conduct, Boyd, who has consistently maintained a passionate and outspoken personality online regarding university student athletes and his sport, made comments on a number of social media posts, questioning whether Guelph’s track and field team would have garnered the accolades it has since 2006 if Scott-Thomas had been dismissed then.
Boyd was dismissed from his position at Queen’s University following his public statements on this issue. Queen’s University administration stands by the decision. A statement from Queen’s University’s Interim Provost Tom Harris attests that, in the wave of shock that followed the story of Scott-Thomas’ dismissal, Boyd’s “numerous statements on social media” resulted in “berating and blaming student athletes who were themselves victims and which only served to re-traumatize them. In doing so, Mr. Boyd flagrantly disregarded the respect and dignity requirements of the Queen’s A&R Coaches Code of Ethics, the OUA Code of Conduct and Ethics, and related U SPORTS Policies and Procedures.”
Queen’s also alleges in that statement that this was not an isolated incident, but that “Mr. Boyd’s comments follow a pattern of objectionable social media commentary spanning several years, about which he had previously been formally cautioned. Mr. Boyd failed to heed repeated warnings from the administration to stop his reckless social media activities.”
“Queen’s University fully supports Canada’s Safe Sport actions to prevent abuse, harassment and bullying. The university had no choice but to take assertive action in this instance to make it clear that Mr. Boyd’s berating and victim-blaming comments do not reflect the values of the university and we certainly do not condone them.”
However, the sentiments and conclusions within Queen’s are not unanimous. Some members of the Queen’s cross-country and track teams disagree with their university’s decision, as well as its timing.
“We, the athletes of the Queen’s Cross Country and Track & Field teams, are writing in response to the termination of Steve Boyd in his role as Head Coach. Any evidence against Steve Boyd does not justify his firing and we are calling for his reinstatement,” the teams said in a petition they launched to have Boyd reinstated on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
The petition goes on to cite Queen’s policy on free expression, which states “failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity and threatens the very core of the University.”
“Steve’s actions wholly reflect these foundational principles of the university through his unrelenting pursuit of truth and justice, and the university’s decision to terminate his contract is incongruous with its own core values,” the petition reads.
“We believe this decision made by the university was rushed and lacked consultation or consideration of student-athletes, entirely disregarding the group of individuals most affected by the decision. This action was not only taken unnecessarily abruptly, as there has been no proof presented that required the ‘immediate’ action of termination, but it also came at a challenging time for us as student-athletes,” the teams continue in the petition.
“As students, we are in the midst of reading week and mid-term season, and as athletes we are preparing for the peak of our competition season. This neglect towards the sentiments of our collective team is overwhelming and regrettable.”
The petition concludes that the teams “strongly disagree with the university’s decision to terminate his contract,” and that they “will continue to express our overlooked opinions and support his reinstatement.”
For his part, Boyd took to social media on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 to voice his opinions on the matter – something he is admittedly known for doing, he expressed.
“I’ve been moved these past couple of days by the many very eloquent and principled defenses of me and condemnations of Queen’s decision to fire me. For these I am forever grateful, and hope to thank all of the senders in person at some point. But I am also moved to correct a couple of possible misconceptions created by some of the coverage of the story, one of which is promulgated by Queen’s response to the Michael Doyle’s article in the Globe,” Boyd wrote in a post on Facebook.
“The Facebook discussion in which Queen’s claims my comments were insensitive to traumatized students was not with vulnerable undergrads processing fresh grief and trauma. The participants were all long graduated from Guelph and at least two were in their 40s. Many were at Guelph in the years during or immediately after Megan’s Brown’s short and tragic time in the program. Some said they had witnesses (sic) first hand, or been the victims of, Dave’s verbally and emotionally destructive behavior.”
Boyd goes on to say his online comments addressed senior alumni and “challenged them to think of appropriate sanctions against the university (sic) of Guelph for failing to properly investigate and fire an alleged sexual exploiter, thus preventing him from endangering other student athletes,” and that he was “puzzled by their lack of resort to the mechanisms of complaint offered to them as student athletes, including anonymous coaching evaluation forms.”
“Either they accessed these avenues of complaint and were ignored by their admin, or they failed to access them in order to stop Dave’s abuse when they saw it,” Boyd wrote.
“In the end, they discovered their power to act out and report speech they saw as harmful and inappropriate, but it was MY speech – speech exhorting them to consider their own possible passive complicity in Dave’s actions – that moved them to action. A coach was indeed fired as a result of their decision to speak up and act, but it was me, not Dave Scott Thomas. And a final point about Queen’s claim that my social media contributions were somehow a problem for them and others.”
Boyd concludes his post by noting that he has no intention to change his frank and forthright character. “In short, I wear my outspokenness – and indeed, my firing for it – as a badge of honour, not of shame. There are downsides to speaking opening and freely ALWAYS (people sometimes miss the message), but the benefits far outweigh the risks, particularly in these times,” he wrote.
Kingstonist will continue to monitor this situation and provide updates if and when new information becomes available.