By Timy Baffoe–
(CBS) Canadians — they’re just like us.
Despite their exoticisms and free health care and peculiar chain coffee-and-donut shops, we Yankee hosers aren’t separated by a common language as you might think.
They’ve produced Drake, and we’ve let him be our corny Rick Moranis of this century. Our president’s daughter has secret feels for their version of president. They’ve graciously let us appropriate professional hockey to the tune of the Stanley Cup not being claimed by a Canadian city since 1993, with it making stops in Tampa, Dallas, Anaheim and Carolina in the meantime. In return, one of the lesser ESPNs broadcasts the Canadian Football League.
It’s an amicable if not aloof relationship, and they don’t keep us awake with upstairs parties. But this week we learned that Canadian sports is more than sending its best athletes south to entertain Americans. In Canada, they even value sports over decency the way we uncouth in the States do.
On Monday morning, the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats announced that they had hired Art Briles to be “assistant head coach offence.” You may recall, Briles was coach of a Baylor University football team that allegedly committed 52 rapes on his watch, and Briles wasn’t one to let authorities know what he knew when victims reported those rapes.
Briles is obviously a bad person who put winning football games above harming people, and if you were a not-terrible person you’d think such judgment on his part should preclude him from working in football again. But American sports are forgiving of sports figures who haven’t paid sufficient debt for their sins. It was just a matter of time before another NCAA or NFL team decided that football mind was more important than the sold soul. But then, dontcha know, those darn Canadians come out of nowhere and hide their polite stereotype right under their tuque.
Tiger-Cats CEO Scott Mitchell spoke with Drew Edwards of 3 Down Nation on Monday about hiring Briles. Despite spelling “-or” words with a superfluous “u” and what I assume were some comical pronunciations of “oot,” Mitchell sounds strikingly like an American team executive.
“The history is that (Tiger-Cats head coach) June Jones and Art Briles have known each other for decades and June was very forthright about what the situation was and the more we contemplated it, deliberated over it – and obviously I spoke to Bob Young about it as well – we just thought it was a very serious situation but we also felt that after talking to dozens of people, people we trust, people we admire, that Art Briles a is a good man that was caught in a very bad situation,” Mitchell said. “Clearly, some serious mistakes were made along the way, but we feel strongly that people deserve second chances and that’s what we’ve decided to do with Art Briles.”
Well, wrap that in the stars and stripes and demand it be saluted. If that “good man in a bad situation” noise just ain’t as sweet as maple syrup but American as all get out. Insisting that people are misunderstanding sports rapists and the people who enable them was always our thing, I thought. Joe Paterno admitted to making mistakes, too, when he helped cover up child rape at Penn State. If only Briles had a statue at Baylor to argue over.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to whether a person deserves a second chance,” he said. “In no way, shape or form can you diminish the clearly institutional, horrific issues that went on at Baylor. But Art was exonerated by his own university, he certainly had nothing to do with no criminal discussions or proceedings. That doesn’t excuse what went on there by any stretch or the horrific experiences that some young women went through. But as an organization we have to decide whether we’re going to give people a second chance and judge them for their own character, morality, and ethics. I can tell you there wasn’t one single person that we spoke to who knows Art Briles that didn’t think he deserved an opportunity to work in football.”
Wow, it’s like The Band covering songs from the Grateful Dead here. Citing exoneration despite sexual assault charges being difficult to prosecute, let alone hold third parties accountable for? That’s totally our thing as Americans.
“I’m always concerned about our fans,” Mitchell said of the fan reaction.
Gauging the pulse of the fans, who are always very rational, is a very American jam. The Ravens asked their fans about signing Colin Kaepernick — an individual doing the opposite of covering up injustice — before passing on him. The Indoor Football League’s Salt Lake Screaming Eagles also took fan input to see if signing Greg Hardy — who would like you to know “the United States of America said I wasn’t” guilty and that he “is not a ****ing psychopath”– would be a PR disaster.
The Tiger-Cats’ Mitchell went on.
“It’s something we take very seriously,” he said. “It’s my hope that fans get as accurate a portrayal of exactly what happened as possible, I hope they understand that there’s the world we live in with the quick rush to judgment – which again, is not to diminish a very, very serious issue – but at the end of the day I think people would agree that people deserve second chances.”
We in America were probably quick to rush to judgment when the first five or so Baylor football rape accusations came in. I mean, sample sizes and whatnot. Fifty-two as of now, though? That’s Bill Cosby honorary degree territory.
“We’ve proven our track record is taking subjects seriously and doing our due diligence,” Mitchell said. “It’s a terribly unfortunate background to it, but that doesn’t take away that people feel strongly that Art Briles is a good person who deserves the opportunity to be a coach.”
This is straight out of the George McCaskey testimonial for a multiple offender of violence against women. “People who feel strongly” that someone should still participate in sports after what Briles did and didn’t do are people mad at demonstrations during “The Star-Spangled Banner” and about a domestic violence suspension being too long.
When Mitchell was asked Monday if he considered changing his mind about the hire, he was clear.
“No,” he said. “We didn’t enter into this today, this has been a topic of discussion for several weeks, collecting information and making a decision.”
Hours later, people more powerful than Mitchell apparently disagreed and unhired Briles. It was the Tiger-Cats, like Briles, who had made a mistake. Still, on Monday, Mitchell really wanted you to know this was about second chances, which rape victims don’t really get, particularly when the education and justice systems repeatedly fail them.
“This is about giving someone a second chance and we’re committed to doing that,” he said. “For every reaction that you’re getting from social media and media, there’s a tremendous amount of support behind the scenes for a tough decision. I think a lot of people in this world, including myself, have made bad decisions and have regrets and I certainly feel strongly that in this case, Art Briles deserves a second opportunity.”
It’s like I can’t hear Bengals coach Marvin Lewis saying that it was “one day in a young man’s life” about Joe Mixon punching out a woman without craving otherwise disgusting poutine next to the ketchup-flavored chips on my hot dog sandwich. Or Jaguars general manager David Caldwell defending the pick of DeDe Westbrook, twice accused of domestic violence, by saying that “we’ve all been accused of things” and me hearing Anne Murray belt out Lee Greenwood’s song about a special kind of pride, even performed in honor of someone who overcome the hardships of admitting committing sexual assault.
Except Murray instead sings “And I’m proud to be a North American.” Because this is a special bond we have with our neighbors to the north.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.