Bombers’ branding director Rheanne Marcoux speaks out against Pinball Clemons, Randy Ambrosie for mishandling ‘predator’ Chad Kelly

Photo courtesy: Rheanne Marcoux

A prominent female employee with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has called out Toronto Argonauts’ general manager Pinball Clemons and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie for their handling of the Chad Kelly suspension.

Senior director of branding Rheanne Marcoux, who has worked for the club since 2014, took to her X account on Friday to post a scathing thread regarding Clemons’ first public comments on the discipline.

“Pinball, you said yesterday ‘We will give Chad Kelly all the support he needs.’ What are you doing to support your female staff that now have to face coming to work every day with a predator in the building? Have you even spoken to them about your decision to allow this?

As I and many female staff members across the league have communicated to Randy Ambrosie, the handling of this extremely serious situation has been a complete and utter failure from top to bottom. You promised to go above and beyond the league recommendations.

Yet at the first opportunity to do so, you did the complete opposite. You have only managed to downplay a serious situation and make women across the league feel unvalued, disrespected and unsupported. Do better.”

Marcoux is the second prominent female within the CFL to publicly voice displeasure with the handling of Kelly in as many days, joining the league’s senior manager of web and digital content Kristina Costabile. The outcry was prompted by the Argonauts’ decision to allow their embattled quarterback to attend rookie camp practice on Thursday while serving his suspension, which complies with current league disciplinary rules.

The CFL issued a minimum nine-game suspension for Kelly on Tuesday, following the conclusion of an independent third-party investigation commissioned in February. An 87-page report found the reigning Most Outstanding Player “unequivocally violated” the three-down league’s gender-based violence policy. That report will not be made public due to privacy laws.

To be reinstated by the league, Kelly will have to attend mandatory counselling sessions conducted by a gender-based violence expert and undergo assessments by an independent expert. If he doesn’t complete the sessions and assessments to the CFL’s satisfaction, the league could modify its discipline against him.

On Wednesday, Blue Bombers’ head coach Mike O’Shea was asked for his thoughts on the punishment laid against Kelly who defeated him in the 2022 Grey Cup and chose to defer to the opinions of his female coworkers.

“Without all the precedents and stuff like that, commenting on length of suspension is not in my wheelhouse. But I do feel very strongly that the women that work in our league deserve a safe workplace. They deserve to be respected,” O’Shea told the Winnipeg media.

“Every employee deserves the respect to have a safe workplace but the women in our league — and there’s a lot of them — really deserve to feel safe coming to work every day. That kind of question should be posed to the women in our organization and see if they do feel respected and safe in this workplace. I believe they do, but far be it for me to answer that. They certainly deserve our support and I know organizationally, we make good decisions.”

A former Argonauts strength and conditioning coach filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, Feb. 21 with the Ontario Superior Court alleging Kelly “repeatedly sought to initiate romantic connections” with her throughout the 2022 and 2023 seasons. She also claimed that Kelly escalated his harassment on Sunday, Nov. 5 when he publicly accused her of being romantically involved with another player, an incident she alleges led to the team not renewing her contract.

Kelly recently filed his defence in the lawsuit and denied making “any romantic or sexual overtures” towards the plaintiff, including workplace sexual harassment. He stated she “advanced these spurious claims against him purely to draw the attention of the media to what was otherwise a very routine termination situation.”

In the team’s defence filing, the Argonauts claim “no knowledge” of any behaviour from Kelly that violated the CFL’s gender-based violence policy or breached the Ontario Human Rights Code. The team also claimed that its conduct with the plaintiff was “all times fair, reasonable, lawful and undertaken in good faith.”

None of the allegations against Kelly or the Argonauts have been tested in court.

On Thursday, Toronto’s GM took responsibility for his team’s alleged mishandling of the harassment claims and stressed the importance of organizational growth going forward. He also cited the team’s previous track record with female employees and their strong internal culture while stressing the importance of Kelly being around the organization while serving his punishment.