University of Guelph admits ‘toxic environment’ was fostered within athletics program

The University of Guelph admits a "toxic environment" was fostered within its athletics program. File / Global News

Amid the allegations surrounding former track coach Dave Scott-Thomas, the University of Guelph admits a “toxic environment” was allowed to grow within its athletics program.

Scott-Thomas was fired in December after he allegedly had an affair with a former student-athlete. Since then, the university has repeatedly apologized to any students who experienced inappropriate behaviour.

READ MORE: Dave Scott-Thomas, former track coach, removed from Guelph Sports Hall of Fame

The school has also come under fire for how it handled the situation since the allegations were first brought forward in 2006.

The university has stressed that Scott-Thomas “lied repeatedly” during the investigation.

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A message posted on the school’s website on Friday revealed a small number of coaches have been removed since 2018 after the Gryphon Coaches Code of Conduct was updated that year.

“For the University of Guelph, this dialogue has been critically important and has shone a light on the toxic environment that had been fostered and encouraged by coaches who are no longer with the organization,” the university stated.

It did not say how many coaches — besides Scott-Thomas — were removed, but said they were fired due to violations of the code.

“Each situation was different and the university took the necessary steps to address the misconduct,” the statement reads.

The university said it does not comment on human resources matters including termination of past employment, but decided to publicly acknowledge Scott-Thomas’ termination due to the unique and troubling circumstances.

READ MORE: Alleged relationship between underage athlete, coach ‘deeply disturbing’: Athletics Canada

The Globe and Mail reported on an alleged 2002 affair between Scott-Thomas and former student-athlete Megan Brown, who was 17 years old at the time.

Global News has not been able to verify any of the allegations. Global News has reached out to Scott-Thomas numerous times for comment but has not received a response. The Globe and Mail reported that Scott Thomas’ lawyer said the allegations are “unsubstantiated” and “inaccurate.”

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The allegations against Scott-Thomas has resulted in turmoil at other universities with track programs.

A Queen’s University track coach was fired on Tuesday after making comments over social media about Dave Scott’s dismissal.

In an exchange with several athletes on Facebook, Steve Boyd discussed whether Guelph’s track titles should be vacated due to the scandal and suggested the University of Guelph was keeping information from potential recruits.

He went on to question athletes on the Guelph track team and their involvement in keeping Scott-Thomas’ alleged behaviour a secret.

A statement from Queen’s said the comments from Boyd “follow a pattern of objectionable social media commentary spanning several years, about which he had previously been formally cautioned.”

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The termination of Dave Scott-Thomas has generated discussion about sexual misconduct in sports broadly and on campus, according to the statement by the University of Guelph.

“While this dialogue has been very difficult for many, it has proven to be a very necessary and important public discussion.”

The university is reminding the community of its supports, processes and policies that are in place to prevent and address sexual misconduct, which has prompted a number of current and former students to come forward.

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Click to play video: 'Fighting sexual assault during frosh week'
Fighting sexual assault during frosh week

While not providing any details, the university said “they have shown tremendous strength and courage.”

“The university is very proud of our student-athletes and coaches and all who make up our athletics program,” the school stated.

“It is imperative that these talented and committed members of our community are not judged by our institutional challenges or defined by those who served to create a toxic environment.”

The university said it is committed to addressing the issues while fostering a culture of transparency and trust.

“Improvements have been made and will continue to be made within our athletics department and across the university,” it stated.

Click to play video: 'Universities should stop using gag orders, prof says'
Universities should stop using gag orders, prof says

On Thursday, a statement was posted on the Gryphons’ website on behalf of the captains of the track and field team: Mark Patton, Danielle Jossinet, Shyvonne Roxborough, Kyle Sinden, Steph Sarellis and Graham Pitfield.

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They said the season has brought extraordinary challenges, but it has also brought the team closer together.

“While it is a sad truth for some teammates, a win-at-all-cost mentality described in the Globe and Mail bore [a] painful resemblance to their experiences of seasons past, it is equally true that such a mentality is not representative of the current team culture of leadership,” the captains stated.

READ MORE: University of Guelph alleges fired track coach Dave Scott-Thomas ‘lied repeatedly’ 

They stressed the current institution within the athletics department is not the same as it was in 2006.

“There is no question that this team does not belong to the legacy of our former coach,” the captains stated. “Our team is not imploding. It is comprised of dedicated athletes and coaches who have overcome challenges and emerged more unified for it.”

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If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, click here to find resources and help.

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