A lot can be forgiven at the Labour Day Classic.
Maybe it’s the tailgating. Or the tradition. Or the eternal hope that the Tiger-Cats might actually win. Or the fatigue that comes from days of sustained anger.
Or perhaps it’s just the way the folks in this town are made.
But the hellstorm of controversy that pounded the team last week with the almost-hiring of Art Briles faded like an overwashed black and gold jersey Monday as fans focused on the field.
Make no mistake — nobody has forgotten the stupid, irresponsible and offensive decision that almost brought Briles in as a new assistant coach, dragging the stink of his scandal at Baylor University with him. Briles knew of allegations of sexual assault involving his players — 52 rapes were reported — and he did nothing about it.
There were no legal repercussions for him. But his failure to do the right thing is a moral and ethical wrong that may never be righted.
The Ticats were blind to that. But fans, the media and Hamiltonians at large saw it quickly and clearly and pushed back — hard.
So hard, that Briles was sent on his way.
“I’ve never been the target of a lynch mob with pitch forks before,” Ticat owner Bob Young said, by way of recapping his week. I chatted with him a few hours before game time between handshakes and selfies at a massive tailgate party near the stadium.
The lynch mob line was meant to be a joke, but surely Caretaker Bob by now understands there were damn good reasons why people were unhappy with him.
“You don’t achieve anything if you don’t make mistakes,” he continued. “We made a really big one and we’re moving on.”
Many Ticats fans — myself included — are waiting to see what the team does next. Are the apologies sincere? Has a lesson been learned? Is real change going to come from this?
Also working the pre-game crowd was CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, the guy who saved the Ticats from their own stupidity on this.
Ambrosie was just as willing to engage in tough conversations with fans as he was to pose for pictures with them.
“Everyone seems to be very pleased that they got the right outcome,” he said of the Briles near-miss. “I’d like to spend a lot of time listening to the fans. It’s been positive.”
And he went even further.
“I’d like to come out and talk to some of the community groups,” he said. When told that leaders in the women’s community have requested a sit-down with Young, Ambrosie immediately said he’d like to be there too.
I gotta say, that impressed me.
Ambrosie’s response to the controversy, his presence among the fans (he said he was here because of the controversy, not the game), and Young’s slightly muddled mea culpa have gone a long way to fix things with fans.
“I don’t think they considered the fans when they tried to hire Briles,” said Kim Hebblethwaite. But she accepts the team’s apology as sincere and is ready to move on.
“Briles’ priority was to support his players instead of doing the right thing,” said Kadi Prince. “I’m not OK with that.”
But she too is ready to forgive and get back to football.
“The bottom line to me is they made it right,” Pauline Amato said. “They apologized. They were desperate, I think.”
“I know it upset an awful lot of people,” said Jack Barclay, counting himself among them. “But they fixed it fast. Bingo — he was gone.”
— Laura Stewart (@lstewy) September 4, 2017
Super fan Laura Stewart supported the Ticats AND victims of sexual assault by bringing blue ribbons to the game and giving them away.
“Survivors, we stand with you,” she tweeted.
I hope she saved a couple for Young and Ambrosie.