CFL GM Eric Tillman pleads guilty to sexual assault
REGINA - The general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders wiped tears from his eyes as he stood in court Monday and apologized for sexually assaulting a teenage girl who was babysitting his children.
Eric Tillman, who was facing a two-week trial, pleaded guilty to the encounter in the summer of 2008 when the girl was 16 years old. Tillman said he was "profoundly sorry" for what he did to the teen, his family and the entire Roughrider organization.
Defence lawyer Aaron Fox argued for an absolute discharge. The Crown did not oppose a discharge of some kind, but prosecutor Bill Burge said he would leave it to the judge to consider whether it should be absolute or conditional. Judge Murray Hinds was to hand down a sentence Tuesday.
Tillman, who helped lead the Riders to the Grey Cup championship in 2007, has been on paid administrative leave from the Canadian Football League club since being charged last February.
The team issued a statement after the day's court proceedings that said president and CEO Jim Hopson has called for a special meeting of the board of directors as soon as reasonably possible.
The club and Tillman have agreed that he won't resume any day-to-day responsibilities until the matter is resolved, according to the statement.
CFL commissioner Mark Cohon had no comment.
Court heard that Tillman came up behind the teen, put his hands on her hips with his fingers through her belt loops and pulled the girl towards him.
Court was told he was on a double dose of sleep aids and muscle relaxants that day for a sore back and employees had described him as acting "loopy." The defence said Tillman did not remember how he got home from the office or what happened with the babysitter.
Burge said the teenage girl declined to make a victim impact statement.
When the charge was first laid, Tillman suggested there was more to the story and said he would rely on the justice system to air the facts. The Crown elected to proceed on a summary basis, meaning the charge was considered less serious than an indictable offence.
Tillman was hired by the Roughriders in August 2006 and led the team to a Grey Cup the following season. He hired head coach Kent Austin before the 2007 season, cut the club's payroll to meet the CFL's salary cap and worked to clean up the team's image after several players were charged over off-field incidents.
Months prior to Tillman's hiring, Trevis Smith, who was a former linebacker with the team, was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault after two women complained he exposed them to HIV without telling them he had the virus. In February 2007, Smith was found guilty and received a five-year jail sentence. He was granted parole early last year and was deported to the United States.
But Smith wasn't the only Roughrider to get into trouble with the law. Between 1999 and 2007, more than a few players made headlines for everything ranging from drug possession to assault.
Tillman has enjoyed great success in the CFL as a general manager. He led the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts to Grey Cup titles in 1994 and 1997, respectively, and has worked as a television analyst with TSN and Sportsnet.
Tillman also served as the general manager of the expansion Ottawa Renegades for three seasons before returning to broadcasting and ultimately landing the post with the Riders. In July 2008, the Riders rewarded him with a contract extension through 2010.