Firing of Queen’s track coach follows heated social media comments

Boyd, the reigning national university women's cross-country coach of the year, was fired by Queen's University on Wednesday. (Fred Chartrand)

Steve Boyd compared University of Guelph track and field athletes to the experience faced by prisoners of war who conspire with their captors in social-media posts earlier this month.

He also suggested in an interview Thursday that two-time Olympic marathoner Reid Coolsaet and others might have turned a blind eye to alleged abuse they could have witnessed at Guelph.

Boyd, the reigning national university women’s cross-country coach of the year, was fired by Queen’s University on Wednesday after engaging in a lengthy Facebook thread about the Dave Scott-Thomas coaching scandal that has rocked Canada’s track and field community.

"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."

"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."

Former middle-distance runner Megan Brown came forward in an explosive Globe and Mail story earlier this month alleging that Scott-Thomas groomed her for a sexual relationship when she was 17. Scott-Thomas, who earned U Sports coach of the year 35 times in cross-country and track and field, was fired in December for a recent complaint of unprofessional conduct. The university said in January that new information revealed that he should have been fired in 2006 after a complaint received from a family member of a student athlete (Brown).

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

"In spite of the difficulties you and others claimed he created, and that you had to endure, many of you enjoyed the personal benefits of winning, and actively sought to enlist others to come and help you continue to win, all the while potentially exposing unwitting athletes to the abuse some of you were suffering," Boyd said, in reply to a Facebook post by former Guelph runner Robyn Mildren a couple of days after the Globe and Mail’s story. "Recruiting is, after all, a team undertaking, and recruiting is crucial to winning. What, if any, responsibility do Guelph athletes have where that is concerned?"

In two more of his 27 comments on the Facebook thread, Boyd said, "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."

In a telephone interview, Boyd also suggested Guelph vacate its U Sports titles won under Scott-Thomas.

"It would be symbolic," he told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "It would be giving back the thing of value that Guelph protected Dave in order to have. So I just thought there’s something eloquent about that because it’s Guelph on the title, and if they covered up for this guy, which they clearly did, they did it because they wanted that thing of value.

"So I thought it would be profoundly symbolic for them have to return that basically, and for all of time have those titles empty."

Boyd, who had coached at the university in Kingston, Ont., since 2010, said before posting his thoughts on Facebook, he’d received a warning from the school’s athletic director Leslie Dal Cin about speaking publicly on Scott-Thomas.

"My AD, I don’t mind saying this, has a reputation of being a bully, and really just making decisions based on someone defying her," Boyd said. "She said, ‘Don’t talk to the media, don’t post on Trackie (a message board).’ So I didn’t do that. But then I did get an invitation basically on Facebook to reply to a post. I did that and she said, ‘Well, you should have known that counts too.’

"And then I have an email in which she says, ‘You can’t say anything to anyone in any form, whatsoever about this story.’ And forever. And I said, ‘Well, this is going to be going on for years and it’s the biggest story in our sport and I’m a senior person in the sport … I was told I would never ever be able to speak on this issue on pain of firing."

Queen’s officials didn’t reply to requests for comment on Thursday.

Prior to the Facebook thread, Boyd had been outspoken about Guelph’s handling of the Scott-Thomas case on Trackie.ca, a Canadian track and field website with a message board. As of Thursday, Boyd had posted 2,641 times about various topics since joining the forum in 2013.

Boyd, a former national team athlete and founder of the Physi-Kult running group, said Mildren’s Facebook post made him think that former Guelph athletes were "ready to have a discussion" around Scott-Thomas.

"But what happened was that Reid being the alphadog basically accused me of self-interest and that basically signalled for the rest of the pack to attack," Boyd said.

Coolsaet — who avoids the Trackie.ca messageboard, calling it a "vile place" — said Boyd’s Facebook comments made to Guelph athletes were insensitive and had poor timing. He called Boyd an "online bully."

The 40-year-old Coolsaet, a two-time Olympian in the marathon, was stung by suggestions he knew of any alleged abuse by Scott-Thomas, his former longtime coach. He said he reached out to Brown when he heard about the allegations in December.

"If I read that (Globe and Mail) story from an outsider’s perspective, like, how did I not see something?" Coolsaet said. "But I think it was just so hidden. Dave’s wife didn’t know.

"Some people say, ‘Oh, it was different time.’ But no, that relationship in the early 2000s, everyone would have known if that was happening, that it was wrong. And that you’re gonna get fired, for sure."

Boyd, who coached Coolsaet’s wife Marie Soehl at Queen’s, said Thursday he was "not sure" whether Coolsaet witnessed any alleged abuse.

"But he has no credibility on it because he worked so closely with Dave. He would have spent more time with Dave at that time and after than anybody else, so he would have seen how much time for instance Dave was spending with Megan. So I don’t know … but what I would say is he has no credibility to talk about this or about being shocked, or any of that, because he also would have seen the 13 years of abuse," Boyd said in reference to a toxic environment, as reported by The Globe, particularly experienced by female athletes.

"He was there every day, training around the team. So I don’t know what he knew or didn’t know. But what I what I am prepared to defend is that he has no credibility to talk about this. He said nothing."

Both Coolsaet and Boyd had heard rumours around Megan Brown before the former high school phenom went public, stories of a "crazy girl" who’d made up a story about a sexual relationship with Scott-Thomas.

"The narrative that Dave told us back in the day was basically like, ‘Here’s a girl who needs attention from her father. So she said this story, her mother passed away her father found a new girlfriend. ‘And she said this story to her father.’ But it’s not true. If it was true, she would have told the university,"’ Coolsaet said. "And at the time we were like ‘Yeah, it makes sense.’ And it seemed so far-fetched and so out of Dave’s character."

Boyd said he heard the rumours from Guelph assistant coach Chris Moulton over beers, but didn’t believe it until speaking to another female athlete a year later.

The argument between Coolsaet and Boyd spilled into their direct messages after the marathoner tried to call the coach. Boyd didn’t answer.

"I just basically said (via DM), ‘Take some (expletive) responsibility for yourself… I think he just has a guilty conscience," Boyd said.

Athletics Canada’s commissioners office is conducting its own investigation on Scott-Thomas, who coached 16 national teams.

Attempts to reach Scott-Thomas have been unsuccessful.

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