Saskatchewan·CBC Investigates

U of R Rams players avoid punishment after making racist, sexual comments

The University of Regina Rams football team was disciplined last year by the school's president for making racist and sexual comments to a couple of players on the University of Saskatchewan women's soccer team, CBC's iTeam has learned.

U of R president considered cancelling football team’s 2016 season, chose ‘educational’ approach instead

The University of Regina Rams have been disciplined by the school's president as a result of racist and sexual comments made by unidentified players to University of Saskatchewan soccer players. (Peter Mills/CBC)

The University of Regina president considered — but ultimately decided against — cancelling the Rams' 2016 season after players made racist and sexual comments to a couple of members of the University of Saskatchewan women's soccer team, CBC's iTeam has learned.

On Oct. 7, 2016, the U of S Huskies were playing the U of R Cougars women's soccer team in Regina. A group of Rams players were in the stands.

According to an investigation by the U of R's dean of kinesiology and health studies, a couple of Rams players shouted racist and vulgar sexual comments at two Huskie players.

U of R president Vianne Timmons said the racist term was directed at a woman she described as of "mixed race."
U of R president Vianne Timmons says she was alerted the day after a group of U of R Rams football players made inappropriate comments at a women's soccer game. (CBC News)

Timmons said while the investigation confirmed the comments were made, "Nobody could identify who had made the comments. There was a group of people. There were a couple of comments yelled out. No one could tell the investigator."

She said, on reflection, she decided it didn't matter who had actually made the comments.

"To me that was irrelevant at that point. I felt that everyone there was involved in the incident," she said. "So, my focus was on the culture that would allow comments like this to happen."

In an email, the university said ordinarily, these sorts of incidents would be handled by the office of the dean. But this case was elevated to the president's office "because of the gravity of the charges and the implications for the Rams."

President decides against cancelling season

Two weeks after the incident, on Oct. 21, the Rams were scheduled to play a crucial game that would determine whether the team made it into the Canada West playoffs.

I felt that this was really important to educate, not to punish.- Vianne Timmons , U of R president

The U of R has confirmed that the president considered cancelling the season altogether. However, she decided to take a different tack.

"I felt this was an educational opportunity for the entire athletics department. So, I viewed it as one of those teachable moments that I was given as a gift as a president," said Timmons.

"I felt that this was really important to educate, not to punish. And that's what we are: an educational institution."

Timmons said she had a face-to-face meeting with the entire Rams team. She told the players that while she could cancel their season, she had decided instead to require the team to take a 90-minute online course about respect and to attend the Bystander Intervention Program. 

The university says it follows the principle of progressive discipline, which means "penalties assigned and actions taken will increase in severity for subsequent acts of misconduct and will take into account the severity of the misconduct."

It says, based on this principle, "a suspension of an individual student for a first-time offence of a nature similar to what occurred in the Rams incident would be highly unlikely."

Team put on probation

In a follow-up letter to the Rams coach, Timmons said "to ensure that players, coaches and staff understand that there is zero tolerance for this type of behaviour going forward, the Rams' football program will be placed on probation until the end of the CIS football season."

The iTeam asked Timmons if the discipline was severe enough, given the seriousness of the comments and the public nature of the incident. 

Timmons said she spoke to the Huskie players involved and their parents "and informed them of the approach I was going to take. They were 100 per cent supportive and appreciative. They were not looking for any punishment. They were not looking for me to do anything dramatic."

The U of S declined an interview but said in written statement, "As far as Huskie Athletics is concerned, this issue was resolved and we are happy with the outcome."

Timmons added that the Rams team responded well and took the matter seriously.

'Collegiate culture' must change: Timmons

Timmons said the real problem here is a sport culture that seems to tolerate offensive behaviour.

In her letter to the Rams coach, she wrote, "I was told by several people that this is part of a 'collegiate culture' of heckling and jeering opponents at Canadian Interuniversity Sport competitions. This culture is unacceptable, and has to be stopped."

She said she has taken this issue to a recent meeting of the Canada West university presidents. She said that body has set up a task force to look into the matter, and the U of R will take its cues from the review's recommendations. 

All student-athletes will also be required to undergo the same education as the Rams team.

10 investigations over 3 years

This isn't the first time a U of R sports program has been criticized for racism.

Three years ago, there was a public controversy after the school's cheerleading team posted a photo of the team wearing stereotypical "cowboys and Indians" costumes complete with feathers, headbands and braids.
When University of Regina cheerleaders were reprimanded for posing as cowboys and Indians and distributing the photo on social media, they were ordered to take a racial sensitivity workshop. (Twitter)

In a news release at the time, Timmons said the costumes were "culturally inappropriate" and said the team's coach had apologized.

"Further steps will require that the team's coaches and team members discuss this matter as a group with the university's executive lead on Indigenization and take cultural sensitivity training."

In an email, university officials said that over the past three years there have been 10 formal harassment and discrimination investigations at the institution.

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About the Author

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.

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