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Former student football player says Rob Ford never hit him

Private Jonathan Gordon is seen at his barracks at CFB Gagetown in Oromocto, N.B.

David Smith for The Globe and Mail/david smith The Globe and Mail

The former high-school football player who Rob Ford is accused of hitting says the mayoralty candidate never laid a hand on him.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Jonathan Gordon, now a 25-year-old private stationed at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, denied a published report that Mr. Ford "shook" and "slapped" him during a 2001 game.

"That's completely untrue," Mr. Gordon said. "Trust me, if he had slapped me I would have beat the crap out of him. No word of a lie."

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Mr. Gordon has gone unnamed until now. The Toronto Star reported in a front-page story in mid-July that the Toronto District School Board dismissed Mr. Ford from his coaching duties after the dispute.

The story went on to quote two anonymous witnesses (a player and a parent) who said Mr. Ford aggressively manhandled a student. It quoted others who said the altercation was purely verbal. Mr. Ford has maintained that the allegations of physical contact with the player were untrue, and that he quit Newtonbrook voluntarily after the incident.

Mr. Gordon remembers well the exhibition game at an Oakville private school where he and his coach got into the screaming match that would surface nine years later to haunt Mr. Ford's mayoralty bid.

"He gave a half-time speech I didn't like," said Mr. Gordon, a 16-year-old free safety at the time. "I basically then decided that I really didn't want to play for this guy any more."

Coach Ford had yelled at the team for failing to meet his expectations, Mr. Gordon recalled. "The way he worded things, I didn't like it."

Mr. Gordon returned for the start of the second half anyway. Instead of playing hard, he let pass an opposing player he could have tackled easily, and then started walking off the field.

"Ford lost his temper, started yelling at me," he said. "I took my helmet off, threw it off the field [and]basically told him he 'can go fuck himself.' We got into a heated argument. We were pretty close, face to face and then we got separated by the assistant coach [Peter Bowman]and that was it."

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Nobody had to physically hold Mr. Ford back, he said. Mr. Bowman simply stepped between them.

The allegation that Mr. Ford physically abused a student hit the Etobicoke councillor hard.

Now a coach at Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, Mr. Ford often boasts on the campaign trail about the money his philanthropic foundation raises to buy football equipment for low-income schools.

"It definitely hasn't helped my campaign," Mr. Ford said of the accusation.

However, one of his aides previously said the campaign received an "overwhelming" response to a fundraising e-mail asking for donations to help fight the "smear pieces."

"I'm happy that Jon's come out and told the truth," Mr. Ford added.

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Chris Spence, the TDSB's director of education, confirmed to The Globe that Mr. Ford had been asked to leave his coaching position at Newtonbrook, but Mr. Spence said he had no first-hand knowledge of the case. The dispute was dealt with internally with no paper trail, he added.

Mr. Spence said he received the information from Allan Wolch, the superintendent who oversees athletics, who himself got the details from sources he wouldn't name.

John Giuga, the former head of physical education at Newtonbrook, was quoted in a subsequent Star story as saying he and Mr. Ford "mutually agreed to part ways," on the Monday after the dispute at Appleby College in Oakville.

Mr. Giuga has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.

Mr. Gordon doesn't know whether Mr. Ford quit, was fired or some combination of both.

The 25-year-old went on to play two more years of football for Newtonbrook before dropping out of high school. He recently completed his basic infantry training in Meaford, Ont., moving to Gagetown, N.B. to join the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment just last week.

Mr. Ford got in touch with Mr. Gordon through another player after the original story broke.

"He just wanted to confirm with me that he never put his hands on me, which I completely agree with," Mr. Gordon said.

Mr. Ford has filed a notice of intent to sue The Toronto Star for libel. Mr. Gordon said he'd be happy to testify.

He has already sent a letter describing his version of events to Mr. Ford's lawyer.

However, it sounds like Mr. Gordon won't be a cheerleader for his old coach's mayoral bid.

"He can do whatever he wants," he said. "I haven't talked to him since the incident, till the other day. I have no idea about the man or what he does."

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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