There are so many painful, disturbing moments in Megan Brown’s story of being allegedly groomed for sex at the hands of a powerful, male track coach, it’s difficult to elevate one above the others.
So let me elevate two.
Imagine the scenario: Ms. Brown is a high school track star who catches the eye of a young coaching guru in Guelph who is on the cusp of making a national name for himself – Dave Scott-Thomas. In this attractive, champion distance runner he sees opportunity, but not the kind you’re thinking.
According to Ms. Brown’s account in the Globe and Mail, the pair began a two-year sexual relationship while she was just 17. It continued when she arrived at the University of Guelph in 2004, where Mr. Scott-Thomas coached the track teams. But, as Ms. Brown now tells it, the secret affair began taking a severe emotional toll on her.
Ms. Brown says she began having suicidal thoughts. She checked herself into a hospital because she believed she was going to harm herself. She later attempted suicide. She checked into another mental-health facility. She was a lost, emotional wreck. Amid all this, her relationship with her coach, a married father of three, ended.
And here is the first scene in the story that got me: it was the image of her sitting down to tell her father, Gary, what had happened. (Megan’s mother is deceased). In that moment, I could only imagine the fear she felt as she approached her dad to tell him her account of what had been going on in her life. Conversely, I couldn’t help thinking how hard it must have been for Gary Brown to listen to his daughter, through a torrent of tears, tell him all that she had allegedly endured. (Mr. Scott-Thomas’s lawyer said allegations against his client were unsubstantiated and inaccurate.)
The second thing in the story that got me, well, infuriated me, was when Mr. Brown reached out to the university to let staff know about the man they had in their midst, the man who was coaching young women there. He was not looking to score some big financial settlement. He was genuinely worried about what this guy might do to others. So he wrote to the president to outline his daughter’s story.
And the president didn’t even bother to respond.
The school never granted Mr. Brown’s request for a meeting. Instead, it conducted its own investigation, which effectively dismissed his daughter’s allegations. The school determined its coach had a “strong emotional relationship” with Ms. Brown, one that was likely inappropriate, but nothing more than that. It allegedly suspended Mr. Scott-Thomas for a month for his conduct.
Mr. Scott-Thomas would go on to coach at the school for 13 more years before another complaint surfaced and Ms. Brown decided to go public with her story.
The school fired the coach in December.
The same concerns about Mr. Scott-Thomas were brought to the attention of Athletics Canada, where he was a track coach in the Olympic program. They were similarly ignored. Ms. Brown eventually abandoned her dream of competing in the Olympics, because there was no way of escaping the interaction she would have to have with Mr. Scott-Thomas to pursue that goal. He shouldn’t have been coaching at all.
There is a fraught history of institutions turning a blind eye to rumours, concerns, hard evidence, expressed about some of those who are important to the school. Penn State did it in the Jerry Sandusky pedophile scandal. Michigan State did in the case of Larry Nassar, the school’s star sports doctor and a former doctor for USA Gymnastics who was eventually convicted of molesting women and girls.
In the case of Megan Brown, it’s my belief Guelph had a chance to do the right thing back in 2006, but instead chose to protect a star athletic coach who would go on to bring the school buckets of championships, over the fading promise of a young, female distance runner. On Monday, the University of Guelph did issue an apology to Ms. Brown.
The fact remains no one sat down with her at the time and said: Tell us everything that happened. Show us all the e-mails. And then confront the coach. Instead, they allowed the coach to convince them that Megan Brown was mentally unstable, that she had created this fantasy in her mind that they’d had a sexual relationship.
I will say this, if you have a son or daughter competing under the aegis of Athletics Canada, you have to ask yourself today what kind of culture exists inside that organization.
And if you have a son or daughter attending the University of Guelph, you have to ask yourself today what kind of values this university cherishes and upholds.
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