Re-earning respect

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:54 PM ET

Eric Tillman probably looked at his notes a couple more times than he should have on an occasion which required looking people in the eye.

But he said the right things. He expressed the right remorse. He educated people on some circumstances. He didn’t use football questions to take a detour from the focus of what could only be the story, the whole story and nothing but the story.

In the end, as he sat beside Edmonton Eskimos’ CEO Rick LeLacheur as the new general manager, there was only one thing missing. Emotion.

That came with the final question of the formal part of the press conference when he was asked how resigning as GM of the Saskatchewan Roughriders after being charged in a sexual assault case had changed him as a person.

Tears entered Tillman’s eyes. He couldn’t speak for several long seconds.

“You obviously asked a good question,” he said and then took more time.

“I understand to a degree that I had no comprehension of the true value of family and friends,” he said slowly, fighting for composure.

“Of unconditional love,” he continued.

“I hurt my family, the Rider Nation, the entire CFL. I learned being part of this league is a privilege not a right.

“The most important thing I learned, the lesson I will teach my children, is the importance of compassion, forgiveness, not to pre-judge, not to assume the worst of people but to look at their best.

I have learned that either I have a positive influence or a negative influence.

“I have learned a lot. It has come at a heavy price. My remorse is profound. I don’t know anything other than to get up and go forward with the support of the family (of the babysitter involved), my wife and the judge.

“It’s not the responsibility of other people to forgive me. It’s my responsibility to conduct myself in a way that will re-earn respect and trust.

“I will do that starting today.”

Tillman’s eyes were red when he was finished.

But it likely took that emotion to dramatically reduce the Eskimos disapproval rating of what LeLacheur suggested might be as high as 65% to giving Tillman the job.

Tillman knows there’s a significant percentage of the populace and the Eskimos season-ticket holders who are going to remain opposed to the decision.

“Not only do I understand that, I respect it,” he said.

“I’d give up everything in my life to change what was less than 10 seconds.”

“There was no intent, no malice. I put myself in a position, with medicines, to do something incredibly stupid. The family forgave me. The judge and the family forgave me,” he said of being given an absolute discharge without criminal record after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting his children’s teenaged baby sitter.

“I understand it was a very challenging and complicated decision and one that Rick did not take lightly. The easy thing for Rick to do was say no.”

While he probably would have been hired by David Braley or Bob Young, the individuals who own the Toronto Argos or the Hamilton Tiger-Cats come December, Tillman said getting this vote confidence from a community-owned team with the kind of history and tradition of the Eskimos is something special in his circumstances.

“I’m very appreciative. I feel blessed. I know the history. I know the pride. I understand what success means to this franchise. I understand what winning means here. It’s about home playoff games and winning championships. And I understand it’s not just about winning but winning with class.

“I loved working for the Roughriders. I loved living and working in Saskatchewan. It mattered there.”

It matters here.

That’s why yesterday was a significant day in Edmonton sports history.

That’s why Canada will be watching the Eskimos now not just as a struggling 2-8 football team in search of regaining its glory but as an entirely different story.

The question is how many people in Edmonton are now cheering for Eric Tillman?

More today, I believe, than there were yesterday.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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