Some days, I just don’t know what’s going on in the City of Edmonton.
There’s plenty of sports drama in Alberta’s capital these days, whether it’s Oilers defenseman Sheldon Souray remaining steadfast in his desire to play anywhere but Edmonton, or goalie Nikolai Khabibulin attending training camp with his recent drunk driving conviction hanging over his head like a dark cloud.
And then there’s the Edmonton Eskimos.
As if a Canadian Football League worst record of 2-9 wasn’t enough to get the blue collar blood all riled up, the Eskimos decided to court more controversy with the recent hiring of Eric Tillman as their new general manager.
Remember Eric Tillman?
He’s the guy who was forced to step down from his post as GM in Saskatchewan in January of 2010, days after pleading guilty to a summary charge for sexually assaulting his babysitter.
The story is well documented, but the incident happened in 2008 when Tillman, who was recovering from back surgery at the time and says he was doped up on pain medication, initiated some inappropriate contact with his 16-year-old babysitter.
According to court documents, Tillman came up behind the girl, put his thumbs through the belt loops on her pants, and made a couple of thrusting motions with his hips
The girl, understandably horrified by what had happened, went home and tearfully told her parents, who informed police and he was charged with sexual assault.
Many, including myself, wondered at the time if we would ever see Tillman again in football, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was surprised when I heard his name linked to the vacant GM position in Edmonton.
I thought, “For a team that fired its previous manager because he wasn’t liked by the fans, this sure would be a strange move.”
Then the Eskimos confirmed the hiring, thus igniting a firestorm in Edmonton likely not seen since the weeks following the Gretzky trade.
I’ve heard statements like “predator” and “raping a child” tossed about when referring to Tillman, but I don’t think any of those are particularly accurate.
I had someone call me last week telling me that Tillman was no better than Graham James, and that is a suggestion that I bristle at.
This was not a case of repeated sexual abuse by a person in a position of power over an extended period of time.
This was a one time incident, which I’m sure many of us have encountered or had to deal with during our lives.
In fact, when I was about 15, my parents hosted a Christmas party which was well attended by family and friends.
One of my mom’s very good friends had had a bit too much eggnog, and when she was leaving, she hugged me.
It was a longer than normal hug, and when she was removing herself from the hug, she accidentally brushed my rear end.
She drunkenly giggled, said sorry, and then planted an unsolicited kiss on my cheek to show just how apologetic she was.
Her actions didn’t seem to bother her husband, who was right there, or my parents, who laughed heartily when I told them the story.
Should I have had her charged with sexual assault?
Sure it was awkward and uncomfortable, but I knew then and I know now that my mom’s friend didn’t mean me any harm with the hug.
I am in no way, shape or form using that story to condone Tillman’s actions.
But I guess the bottom line for me is that he did admit his guilt, showed much remorse, took his lumps and received forgiveness from the victim herself.
If she can forgive Tillman and give him a second chance, then so too can I.