Considering that Edmonton’s professional sports franchises haven’t exactly lived up to the City of Champions moniker that greets visitors at city limits for the last few years, perhaps City of Second Chances can be a suitable substitute until the Oilers and Eskimos are back to their storied winning ways.
Today, the Edmonton Eskimo Football Club announced the hiring of Eric Tillman as their general manager. Clearly, the complications of this hiring have been considered by the Eskimo organization. As soon as Tillman’s name was floated as a possible candidate, the divisiveness of him in this roll became evident. I can only imagine the number of calls the Eskimo office fielded over the past couple of days. I don’t have any official capacity with the Double E, yet my phone and facebook has been bombarded with requests to know my take on the situation. Typically, I’m not one to reserve judgment. But I have found myself dancing a bit more delicately around this one than giving hard answers. In that vein, I’ll table this:
MacTavish’s character helped him get through the most distressing time of his life, which came after he was drinking at a bar on Jan. 29, 1984, then drove home, colliding with another car on his way, killing that car’s driver, 26-year-old Kim Radley. At the time MacTavish had moved up from the college ranks and was a promising 26-year-old forward on the Boston Bruins. He pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and spent a full year in jail, the first few months in a small cell with a pail for a toilet.
The Oilers were the first of four teams to approach him in jail about resuming his NHL career, and Boston let him go without compensation so he could start his life again in a new setting. MacTavish paid for his crime, not only by doing time, but by speaking at numerous schools about the dangers of drunk driving and by serving as the honorary chairman of Edmonton’s CheckStop anti-drunk-driving program. He also forged a bond with Kim Radley’s parents, Ron and Hazel Foote. They visited MacTavish in jail and forgave him for his crime. Out of this visit came a relationship that has lasted to this day, with Hazel still sending a card to MacTavish on his birthday.
“I have a great deal of respect for Craig MacTavish,” she says. “He was a young man who made a tragic mistake and was extremely sorry for it. I regard him very highly.” (Staples, 2007)
I can’t help but draw some pretty close parallels between the Tillman and MacTavish cases. Like MacTavish, “it is worth noting that the victims publicly forgave Tillman” (Vanstone, 2010). Likewise, the Saskatchewan judge gave him an absolute discharge—Tillman does not have a criminal record despite his guilty plea to the charges of sexual assault. And as Vanstone, et al point out, he’s paid a price. The public scrutiny isn’t done yet either. Eskimo CEO Rick LeLacheur has made it clear that this is a second chance—there will be no third. So in the end, what do I think? Yeah, I think he deserves a second chance.
Of course I’m hopeful that he will repeat what he’s done in three other CFL cities, and brings the Grey Cup back to Edmonton. Obviously, I hope that he does not repeat what happened in Regina. Honestly, I can’t see him being alone in a room with a babysitter again. One-plus-one supervision is becoming standard practice in many environments where men may be around girls (e.g., high school coaches). And I also do see a real opportunity for Tillman to become a spokesperson for this issue, much like MacTavish is celebrated for doing with anti-drunk-driving campaigns. Who knows? Maybe we can be a city of champions in more ways than one? I know I’m not alone in thinking we can.