HAMILTON –– It's been one week since the Hamilton Tiger-Cats hired disgraced Baylor University head coach Art Briles, and fans attending Monday's Labour Day Classic are still fuming — even though the decision was quickly reversed.
"It hasn't felt right all week. I appreciate they've recognized it's a mistake and [they] tried to move past it, but it doesn't feel like Labour Day," said longtime Ticats fan Laura Stewart.
Briles, 61, was fired in May 2016 as Baylor's head football coach after an investigation discovered the school mishandled numerous sexual assault allegations, including some against football players. Last Monday he was hired by the Ticats. That same day the CFL intervened and said Briles would not be joining the team.
Stewart debated all week whether she should attend Monday's game and if she did, how she would show her disapproval of the hiring. She settled on making sexual assault awareness ribbons.
"I made 53 ribbons," she said.
"Fifty-two for the number of sexual assault cases that have been reported between 2011 and 2014. And the 53rd for anyone who hasn't come forward and has been quiet about it."
According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by a former Baylor student, between 2011 and 2014, there were 52 acts of rape committed by 31 different players. Briles was head coach at the time.
Stewart is wearing one of the ribbons and was emotional attending Monday's game.
"I align myself so much with this team because of what they preach. Community. Being in and supporting the community. This is in complete contrast of that and it hurt me."
CFL commissioner responds
Prior to Monday's Labour Day Classic, CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie spent time at the Ticats' tailgate party talking to fans. He says he knows they still have work to do after the Briles fiasco.
"I think mostly I'm hearing appreciation for the fact that we got it right. I think they're proud of the fact we got it right," Ambrosie said. "You have to spend time with these fans and in the community."
Ambrosie stepped in last week and made it clear that Briles would not be joining the Ticats. The backlash from fans and organizations was strong and swift. Ambrosie says he heard the fans loud and clear.
"It's an important part of the healing and education process," he said. "We aren't experts at this. We need to climb that wall of knowledge."
Ticats owner Bob Young was right beside Ambrosie at the tailgate party also talking to fans prior to the game. He continued to apologize for the move.
"We made a big mistake. We fixed it. We're moving forward and the fans understand the effort we're putting into building a great team here," he said.
Young and Ambrosie are both open to meeting with community groups to discuss the Briles hiring further and how to rebuild the community's confidence.
"I'd be honoured to join those conversations," Ambrosie said. "If you're going to be part of the community you have to be ready to listen."
Mixed feelings among fans
Season ticket holder Terrilyn Laurat says she and many others considered boycotting Monday's game but decided on showing up at the stadium to support the players.
"We're here for them," she said. "We'll always support our players and we're just ready to get on with it already."
Rosemarie Spilak agrees but says there needs to be changes made after the Briles hiring.
"This has been the worst week ever," Spilak said. "It was tough. Management needs to re-evaluate their integrity."
Spilak's husband shares his wife's sentiments.
"They missed the big picture. The big picture is family and having a good time. It's unfortunate how things happened."
But not all fans are on the same page. Patrick Ellis is a longtime season ticket holder of the Ticats and feels the team should have given Briles a second chance.
"The past is the past. It's bad times for the Ticats. If we were winning it would be a different story. He could have brought a lot of talent to Hamilton."
As for the provincial rivalry between Hamilton and Toronto and the Labour Day Classic, one Argos fan says the decision to take Briles off the roster creates a rare time when both sides see it the same way.
"This is probably the one time Argos and Ticats fans will agree on something," Adam Gosse said. "I think it's simply a case of American coaches who underestimate the intelligence of Canadian football fans. I think they felt they could slide this one under the rug."