University, teams address dismissal of Queen’s coach Steve Boyd

Former coach of Queen’s track and cross-country teams, Steve Boyd. Photo via petition from Queen’s track and cross-country teams. Photo via Queen’s Athletics.

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.

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4 thoughts on “University, teams address dismissal of Queen’s coach Steve Boyd

  • February 21, 2020 at 3:17 pm
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    Can these student athletes suggest how one “explore(s) or confront(s) ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument” via social media? It is possible to agree with Coach Boyd’s comments, in principle, but there are better forums for a unversity athletic coach in which to express these. Respectful dialogue, debate, and argument don’t appear to be possible on social media, and he had been cautioned in the past, therefore the coach should have known better. Sorry, kids. Everyone has the right to free speech but not freedom from the consequences of expressing yourself.

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  • February 21, 2020 at 3:33 pm
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    Please refrain from addressing university students as kids, thank you.

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  • February 22, 2020 at 12:27 am
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    Based on what I’ve read of the Facebook conversation, it seems that Mr. Boyd attempted to use logic and reason in an emotional conversation and things got misinterpreted. While I personally feel like the placement of his messages were in poor taste, its sad to see that his ‘victim blaming’ comments – which he did later backtrack on, but notably did not apologize for – are the only ones that struck with those he was speaking to as I don’t feel like that was the initial point he was trying to make. That point being, if Thomas was not as successful of a coach as he was, and if it wasn’t for Guelph’s ‘win-at-all-costs’ mentality, then perhaps the abuse would not have continued for as long as it did. That point then snowballed into the possible role everyone played in that situation, which is where things got problematic. However, it is a proven fact that those with with power and success are systematically protected when it comes to ethical violations and abuse. I think Boyd’s proposal of striking the track wins Thomas was involved in as fraudulent, sets a standard for other University’s in that protecting abusers and working with unethical people will not pay off in the long run. If you fail to protect the safety and well-being of your athletes, than whatever you may gain from that abuser will be invalidated, because as right now, the institution of Guelph has greatly benefited by Thomas’ coaching. That isn’t to imply that the runners didn’t earn their wins, and it is unfortunate that this would take away titles from the victims of the coach’s abuse, but I think Boyd meant that the University sound also face sanctions for their role in protecting the coach, and not protecting the athletes. I do understand how his timing could also be seen as distasteful, but the weeks following events like this are the best time to initiate change. I also understand why emotions ran so high in that thread, and I extend my sympathies those involved, but I do feel Boyd was citing a solution based on the rules of the sport. If one disagrees with that solution, then perhaps a more productive conversation would be how the rules of the sport need to change to better deal with situations like this in the future, rather than firing someone who seems to be passionate about seeing that change happen.

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  • February 27, 2020 at 4:12 pm
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    As a concerned parent, I have read many of the applicable posts by Steve Boyd and others and wholeheartedly support the necessity for Queen’s to fire a coach, regardless of how successful, who repeatedly engages in such offensive and unprofessional comments and dialogue with others on a forum that was completely inappropriate.

    In one exchange, Steve Boyd makes the comment that: “people have to own what they say here”– and that is now what he must do—as difficult and stressful it is to all of the amazing Queen’s athletes who are affected by a decision that Mr. Boyd gave Queen’s University no alternative but to make.

    Steve Boyd also states: “I am not at fault for the hostile direction this took”—yet he repeatedly hammers home a point of blaming those affected and just doesn’t let up—he digs himself deeper–then resorts to low-level disparaging personal attacks on respondents.

    It is inconceivable that many have commented that this offensive behaviour is an entitlement of “free expression”. This was not the time or the place for Steve Boyd to submit others to his rancour.

    Rather than take the high road and apologize for appalling remarks—which he should have done from the outset—apparently he further indicates 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”. This man just doesn’t GET IT–and, unfortunately for him, it sounds like he never will!

    To the athletes who have worked so hard, and invested so much, I understand how devastating this must be for you but he gave Queen’s no choice.

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