Manitoba

Sexual assault survivors should be treated as 'heroes' for coming forward, Winnipeg football coach says

Some in Winnipeg's football community say it's clear there's still progress to be made in how sexual assault survivors are treated, after five former high school players came forward this month with allegations against a longtime coach dating back years.

Changing perspectives about sexual assault could clear a path for others to speak up: Winnipeg Rifles coach

Geordie Wilson, seen here in a Zoom interview on April 14, is the head coach of the Winnipeg Rifles junior football team. Wilson said he worries the culture surrounding certain men's sports makes it tough for sexual assault survivors to come forward — and that needs to change. (Zoom)

Warning: This story discusses sexual assault.

Some in Winnipeg's football community say it's clear there's still progress to be made in how sexual assault survivors are treated, after five former high school players came forward this month with allegations against a longtime coach dating back years.

Kelsey Albert Dana McKay was charged this week with multiple offences, including sexual assault and luring, after Winnipeg police said they got reports from five adults who alleged McKay assaulted them between 2004 and 2011 while they were students and played football at Churchill High School and Vincent Massey Collegiate.

Most of the assaults are alleged to have happened at McKay's home, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Dani McKinnon said at a news conference Wednesday. None of the allegations against the 51-year-old have been proven in court.

Geordie Wilson, head coach of the Winnipeg Rifles junior football team, said he worries the culture surrounding certain men's sports makes it especially tough for players who are survivors of sexual assault to come forward.

Wilson, whose team has nine former Vincent Massey players on the roster, said that needs to change.

"We have to have admiration for them and we have to actually start treating them as heroes when they come forward, because it's a tough thing," he said.

"And then maybe what it does is it clears the path for, if there's other victims from this situation, [for them to come forward]."

McKinnon told reporters she "wouldn't be surprised" if the sex crimes unit got more calls after the Wednesday news conference.

Anyone with information that could help investigators is asked to call 204-986-6245. 

'Completely unacceptable': player

McKay, who's currently still a teacher at Vincent Massey, has been placed on unpaid administrative leave and will not be allowed on school division property, Pembina Trails School Division superintendent Ted Fransen said Wednesday.

The teacher was released after his arrest with certain conditions, including an order not to contact any of the complainants or anyone under 18. He's also barred from coaching or otherwise being involved in football, according to court documents.

Vincent Massey student Sean Marchello, who had McKay as a football coach for the last three years, said he and his teammates were shocked and angry to hear the news of the teacher's arrest this week.

Sean Marchello, seen here in a Zoom interview on April 14, is a student and football player at Vincent Massey Collegiate. He said he and his teammates have a lot of empathy for those who came forward with sexual assault allegations against his former coach this month. (Zoom)

"When it's a coach and a teacher, you build a level of trust and respect just because they're in a position of power," said the 18-year-old, who now plays for the Winnipeg Rifles.

"[Some of] these allegations and things happened over 18 years ago. And I just think that's completely unacceptable for this to go on this long."

Wilson said on top of changing the culture around how sexual assault is discussed in sports, there need to be more programs and supports in place — even at a high school level — to prevent sexual assault and make it easier for survivors to get the help they need.

On the University of Manitoba Bisons football team, those checks and balances include implementing the pillars of the Responsible Coaching Movement, said Gene Muller, director of athletics and recreation at the university.

One of those pillars is a rule that two responsible adults must be present for all interactions with players.

The university also requires all student athletes to complete a sexual assault prevention workshop, Muller said. That workshop includes training on developing empathy and support for survivors and how to intervene in situations that can lead to sexual violence, the university's website says.

Muller said in an email the Bisons are "committed to the health and safety of student-athletes" and have reached out to remind them of the supports available for them at the university in light of McKay's arrest.

From Marchello's perspective, there's still room for improvement in the supports available to support survivors of sexual assault at a high school level. 

But among his peers, he has seen a wave of empathy for those who came forward with allegations against his former coach — and for any others who still might.

"It takes a lot of courage and bravery," Marchello said.

"We all support these people coming forward and we encourage, if there's any other survivors, [we encourage them] to come forward and say their experiences, because that is very important."

5 former high school players bring forward allegations against longtime coach

10 months ago
Duration 2:07
Kelsey Albert Dana McKay was charged this week with multiple offences, including sexual assault and luring, after Winnipeg police said they got reports from five adults who alleged McKay assaulted them between 2004 and 2011 while they were students and played football at Churchill High School and Vincent Massey Collegiate.

Support for survivors and others is available through the Klinic Sexual Assault Crisis Line at 204-786-8631, or through Winnipeg police victim services at 204-986-6350.

With files from Andrew Wildes

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