By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Eric Tillman will not be returning to the Riders . While I always hoped this day would never come, I knew from the day the story broke that this was likely what the end result would be. Short of a full exoneration it was pretty much inevitable that this would spell the end of Tillman’s time with the Riders. The Board obviously felt that it was not in the best interests of the team to go forward with someone who had committed sexual assault as the leader of the franchise. The court of public opinion is not as lenient as the courts of justice and in the end Tillman was let go not because of what he’s done but rather what people think of what he’s done.
Though I disagree with their decision, I understand why the team chose to go this route and accept their decision. They came to the conclusion that keeping Tillman on would be more trouble than its worth.
You’ll note that throughout the legal proceedings I have kept my opinions fairly quiet and I’m sure many are you are wondering where I stand on this issue. Well here goes…
I think it’s a shame that one of the most successful GMs in team history was sent packing because of such a minor incident… okay poor choice of words… let’s go with such a small indiscretion. By all account Tillman has been nothing but a stand-up guy both in his career and in his personal life for all but one brief moment in his 52 years on this earth. What he did in that brief moment was wrong and I will not make any attempt to excuse his actions or downplay their seriousness. That said I don’t feel as though this one incident was severe enough that it would inhibit his ability to continue to perform at a high level as our GM and ensure continued success for the franchise.
The idea that public perception left the Riders no choice but to part ways with Tillman is somewhat hypocritical and I’ll use a comparison to illustrate why.
When we look back on 2009 what will be the biggest black mark on this franchise? The infamous 13th man. And who was responsible for this black mark? Kavis Reed. He screwed up, plain and simple. There was public criticism and this will no doubt something that will be the source of a ton of media attention and public criticism in the coming season. Yet Reed was not let go. The team seemed to be willing to forgive one massive screw up in light of his performance throughout the season.
The same logic was no afforded to Tillman. He screwed up plain and simple as well but in this case the team was not willing to forgive. Now I’m not saying that a coaching error is as bad as inappropriately touching a minor (especially since one is illegal and one is not)… but I guarantee that it will be a bigger story in the coming season. So if the logic for parting ways with Tillman was that his actions were too damaging to the team’s image then it would be hypocritical to not also part ways with Reed has his actions were far more damaging to the franchise… Just a point to ponder.
In the grand scheme of things was what Tillman did all that bad? People still cheer for Canada’s Olympic hockey team even though their roster features someone (Dany Heatley) who killed a man while driving at excessive speeds. People still watch TSN even though one of their panellists (Craig MacTavish) killed a woman while driving drunk. People still listen to James Brown despite his multiple weapons and drug related offenses. Yet people are taking a “holier than thou” approach to one solitary, brief instance of inappropriate contact?
Tillman was quick to give second chances in his time with the team. He gave one to Jason Armstead despite a run in with the law. He gave one to Adarius Bowman despite his pot smoking. He offered one to Hakeem Hill (though Hill wasn’t smart enough to actually take advantage of the offer). But he wasn’t lucky enough to have one offered to him which is too bad.
As I said, though I disagree with the team’s decision, I accept it and respect it. I don’t imagine its one they came to lightly and maybe in the end this will be what’s best for everyone. Both parties can move on and leave this unfortunate incident in the past.
At this point I think ET would be best served to go lay low for awhile and after some time passes I imagine he will resurface in a scouting role or consultant role with a team (much like Roy Shivers did after he was fired) and in time we will see him back in charge of a football team. He’s too good at what he does to stay away for long.
And so it is with great remorse that I bid adieu to one of the great men in Rider history. Though is legacy will unfortunately be marred by the sexual assault charge, his contributions to the team and the heights of success he has led them to is what I will choose to remember.