Jordan: The problem at the heart of today’s story is an ugly one. But it’s not particularly unique. A grown man in a position of power allegedly uses that power to groom a young woman, first as a friend, then as a partner and finally, for a sexual relationship. If there’s one thing the past few years of these stories should have taught us, it’s that this scenario happens absolutely everywhere. But what happens when the story goes public? That varies wildly depending on the world in which it happens. In large companies and big industries, by now, there is a process. Or at least there should be. Even in smaller companies, there’s usually a structure of some sort in place. In the tiny insular world of Canadian long distance running, though, there’s not much of that to speak of. And the allegations that landed in a national newspaper almost two weeks ago have exposed just how badly some oversight is needed in these small communities. Almost two decades ago now, a promising young woman met a notable coach and the story went the way these stories sometimes go. And nobody talked. And nothing was done until it hit the papers. And now at tiny world of Canadian long distance running has been blown wide open and nobody knows what happens now. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Michael Doyle is a freelance journalist. For this particular investigation he worked with the Globe and Mail. Hi Michael.
Michael: Hi. How are you doing?
Jordan: I’m doing well. You performed quite a deep dive on a problem that I don’t think a lot of people even knew I was on anybody’s radar. Why don’t you start just by telling us who’s Megan Brown?
Michael: Certainly Megan Brown, actually, if, if you’re a fan of, of track and field in Canada, you may remember the name because she was, uh, a bright star, uh, 10, 15 years ago, uh, was sort of at her apex of her career. Um, and she started off as a high school phenom. She ran very briefly with a club called Speed River, a track and field club in Guelph. And also briefly with the University of Guelph before moving on to the University of Toronto where she had some success. Ultimately, she didn’t become an Olympian or the next great, uh, Canadian distance runner, uh, and my investigation in part unearthed why that happened, or why that didn’t happen.
Jordan: In the same vain, then just so we have the two characters upfront, who is Dave Scott-Thomas?
Michael: Dave Scott-Thomas is, or was until very recently, arguably the most powerful individual and track and field in Canada. He was a coach at the university of Guelph, which is a powerhouse program and track and field, uh, only rivalled with US schools. And he also, uh, had the Speed River track and field club in Guelph, which had a number of, uh, Olympians that ran, uh, ran with him at the club over the years and developed an unimaginable amount of talent there. And he was a national team coach, so he coached, uh, in the 2016 Olympics as well.
Jordan: So in a relatively small world in this industry, in Canada, he was one of the bigger names.
Michael: He was a, an outsized figure for sure. I mean, one coach said to me, he sort of like a Scotty Bowman type figure. He was an empire builder on a lot of different levels. Um, but I would argue that within the cloistered world of Canadian track and field and distance running, he was even much more powerful than that.
Jordan: So let’s start by going back to the beginning and tell me how Megan Brown met Dave Scott-Thomas?
Michael: It all started in the fall of 2001 when Megan was a 16 year old kid and she was very new to running. She’d only been running a couple of years. Her mom had died, uh, when she was a teenager and she discovered running after her mother’s death in part a coping mechanism. And she won the junior race at the Ontario Cross Country Championships, the high school championships, which is a pretty incredible feat for someone new to running. And Dave Scott-Thomas saw her at that meet and identified her as the up and coming phenom that she was. I suppose, luckily for him, she happened to be a local kid. She was from the farm community outside of the Guelph area. So he, in the weeks after her win, went to her high school and recruited her there.
Jordan: At that time when she is 16 and he’s recruiting her, how big a deal was he then? Would it have been like being recruited by Scotty Bowman at that time?
Michael: Uh, not quite, but he was definitely an up and coming force. Certainly locally it would be a big deal. Uh, Guelph was, uh, at the university level was developing as a top flight school. And his program that was sort of attached to the school, the Speed River Track and Field Club, was becoming a known commodity in the running scene, and he was attracting some talent, but this was at the very beginning, the building stages and he was a very charismatic figure as well. He, you know, he offered her an opportunity and a situation for her to grow her talent. And obviously it was, you know, in the community, so she and her father, who was, uh, a widower at the time, trusted Mr. Scott Thomas to take care of their daughter.
Jordan: She spoke to you in a lot of depth for this story. What does she say about their relationship, their working relationship in the early days?
Michael: I think it was, um, positive, and then it became very intense, very quickly. Uh, they developed–
Jordan: What do you mean by intense?
Michael: Well, they very quickly started spending a lot of time together. And time, not just in terms of after school, when he’s coaching or at the track, but even after that, and according to many of the athletes that I spoke with that were present at that time, while she was still a high school kid training at Speed River, they would disappear off in the car. They would go for drives. Uh, and as Megan told me later in our interviews, uh, he would take her for tea and they would spend, you know, long periods of time talking about– it started off talking about running, and then it very quickly diverged from that to talking about each of their emotional states, and his, as much as hers. Uh, and then emails started, uh, phone calls. This is at the, during the early days of the cell phone, right? So Megan actually had a phone. It was kind of surreptitiously going out and, you know, are up in her room or out in the road talking to Dave Scott-Thomas while he was staying late at his office in the evenings.
Jordan: What do we know about what the people around this relationship thought about it? Um, so far you’ve described stuff that I think would raise people’s eyebrows, but, uh, perhaps not crossing a particular line?
Michael: Well, the first problem is, is that there was an incredible amount of blind trust given to Dave Scott-Thomas, he started the program at the University of Guelph. It was a nothing program by all accounts. Uh, and he built it from nothing to quite something and later on to an incredible program. Uh, and because of that he had unilateral power. It wasn’t a whole lot of checks and balances going on. University didn’t put any in place, and parents trusted him as well. Uh, he’s sort of purported himself to be a family man. He has daughters. He was married, guy in his late thirties at the time. So there was a lot of trust built in there. Students, uh, athletes in the, in the club and athletes at the university told me that they definitely, they started to gossip. They definitely saw something going on. But they’re kids. They’re teenagers. They’re 18, 19, 20 years old, and there’s a lot of jealousy. Actually, uh, many, many athletes told me, former athletes told me that they felt a great deal of jealousy towards Megan because she was occupying all of their coach’s time. But the thing is, is that Dave Scott-Thomas gave her that time and that attention. So it was definitely a two way street that was going on.
Jordan: Where did that lead?
Michael: In the fall of 2002 the Speed River team led by Dave Scott-Thomas went in an RV and drove out to Moncton for the National Cross Country Championships. Uh, Megan was the only teenage girl in the group. It was a lot of like university students that were going out. You know, it was a really fun time for her. She was very excited. This was the first big trip for her. Um, she’s a pretty like, naive kid as well, and she ended up winning that meet. She won that, the national junior title, which is a huge deal, and it meant that you would be going to a world championships the following year. And that night after winning the title, instead of going out with her friends, her teammates, and celebrating, she went on a drive with Dave Scott-Thomas in that RV, she alledges. And, uh, that’s when he approached her with the idea of a relationship. He won’t, he was kind of probing her for how she felt about him emotionally, uh, and sexually as well. And shortly after that, uh, a sexual relationship began between the two of them. And she was 17 years old. He was 38.
Jordan: So the topic, at least of the relationship is broached right after her biggest victory so far, and what should have been the first of of many. What happens the weeks after that, according to Megan?
Michael: Uh, well, shortly after that, after they come back from the National Championships in Moncton, uh, her and Mr. Scott-Thomas actually go for a trip alone in his car from Guelph to Toronto, a day trip. They went to the ROM, the Royal Ontario museum, and in the exhibit somewhere, uh, he kisses her. And then later on that evening, they drive back to Guelph. They go to the Arboretum, which is a large forested area owned by the university where he actually trained his athletes. And that’s where they had Megan’s first sexual encounter in her life, in his car. And, uh, she says that she felt it was an ultimatum, uh, that he gave her before they had sex, which was that, uh, either have a sexual relationship with me or, uh, you’re going to lose everything that we have built. Of course, she chose the former. I think she realizes now that consent was not possible at that point in her life, um, based on her age, based on that, the power dynamic that existed between the two of them. Uh, so, from there on end, there was uh, a two year secret sexual relationship, uh, that they maintained until she was a shortly after she joined the University of Guelph uh, as a student athlete.
Jordan: How does that kind of thing happen? And I think, you know, this sounds like kind of a stupid question because we now hear about this kind of thing happening often. But how does something like that happen within a relationship that has so many power dynamics involved, and nobody around it does anything? I mean, you mentioned they might not have known about the romantic aspect of the relationship, but you mentioned that her teammates were certainly aware. Was anybody else involved with the club or the university aware that this was going on?
Michael: I mean, this is a debate that’s kind of torn the running community in Canada in two right now, which is, uh, those that were part of the University of Guelph or the Speed River Track and Field Club at that time, either as coaches or athletes, many of them now are very prominent athletes, Olympians, high level coaches, and people involved in an endurance sports in a very big way being called to question about what they may or may not have known. And that was a tough question that I had to ask many people, which is in a roundabout way, like what did you know? What did you not know? And I think the consensus was, is there was a lot of gossip about it, but the attitude towards it, when you’re say 16, 17, 18, 20 years old, I think is very different than now when you’re in your late thirties, early forties. Looking back at that time and realizing how vulnerable Megan was and realizing how serious a situation this is. And Megan herself feels that some people, particularly those in positions of power, either knew or should have known or were we even willfully ignorant. And, uh, you know, obviously it’s up to those people to be honest about, uh, what they did and did not know.
Jordan: So what happened over those next couple of years and how did it all end? Because obviously Megan Brown is now not a household name in the world of Canadian running.
Michael: Everything kind of fell apart in her first semester at university. Uh, she was having incredibly, an incredibly difficult time, personally, psychologically, uh, her mental health was deteriorating significantly. She ended up spending quite a bit of time in mental health facilities over that two year period where they had a relationship and in her first semester at the University of Guelph, uh, it all came to a head in two events. One was Mr. Scott-Thomas discovered that his wife was pregnant with their third child, and she felt him trying to create distance between he and her. And then she also, uh, ended up telling a teammate about the relationship, uh, which caused chaos. And in December of 2004, she confronted Mr. Scott Thomas in his office. She told him that she had told a teammate about the relationship. He became furious. Uh, he allegedly assaulted her, grabbed her by the throat, slammed her against a wall, told her she was done at the university. And, um, she ended up in the Guelph General Hospital later that night in hysterics and was ostracized from the university. Left the university, did not come back the following semester. At that point, Megan and her family tried to, you know, rebuild her life and her career. And she ended up at the University of Toronto, where she had quite a bit of success. Uh, she did become a top flight runner again, eventually. And also her father went to the University of Guelph in 2006, and, uh, indicated to them that something had gone on and provided them with evidence, provided them with copies of emails and letters from Mr. Scott-Thomas to his daughter from the time she was a high school student. Uh, and that’s when there’s this really complicated institutional element in this story, where, uh, the university decided to believe their coach instead of her.
Jordan: What happened in the months after Megan’s father brought these allegations forward?
Michael: Yeah. So in the fall of 2006 she, uh, Megan’s dad, who’s been carrying this rage but yet has been completely handcuffed by the fact that his daughter is in a very, very fragile mental state, decides to do something about it. Megan’s in a better place. She’s running at the University of Toronto. Things are fairly stable. So he quietly goes to the University of Guelph. He actually sends a letter to the president at the time, Alastair Summerlee. And he just wants to flag this issue. He wants to indicate quietly, discreetly to them– the analogy kept saying using to me, the metaphor was, you’ve got a snake in your barn. And he thought that they would want to do something about this, out of fear that Mr. Scott-Thomas would have another inappropriate relationship with a student. And instead the university handled it in just about the exact opposite capacity, which is that they, according to Mr. Brown, they became very defensive and he felt somewhat threatened by it. They lawyered up. Uh, they hired a consultant, and I would use air quotes, to investigate the situation. Um, it was kept extremely quiet. Uh, none of the 70 athletes that I spoke with, many of whom were training in 2006 at the university, ever heard of an investigation. No one was interviewed. Uh, and Megan’s father did present the university with emails and letters that Mr. Scott-Thomas sent to his daughter when she was a minor. And, uh, the university resolved at the end of a very short investigation, there was a one and a half page document that they presented to him in the end, saying that while there was some form of emotional relationship between their coach and Megan Brown, that they did not find anything, uh, overly egregious that meant they needed, they had to fire him. So they stuck with Dave Scott-Thomas. He was also conveniently at the time dominant in the track and field world. His teams were, both his men’s and women’s teams were winning national championships. He won coach of the year, both for the men’s and the women’s team that year as well. So in the aftermath of that, Megan’s dad, uh, attempted many times to get various powers that be to pay attention to this and investigate Mr. Scott Thomas and it, it never came to, to anything really until this story came out.
Jordan: So fast forward then to the process of you preparing to report this story and talking to Megan and contacting the university. What happens when this investigation comes back?
Michael: So the reason why I started looking into this was actually because of a second, uh, accusation against Dave Scott-Thomas. You know, I thought it was the first accusation against Dave Scott-Thomas, uh, before I started this reporting. And that happened in the fall of last year. Another student came forward and, um, made a complaint. The university is calling it a code of conduct complaint. They’re not going into detail about it. However, when I started looking into this, none of this was public. This was all rumour. And some of my sources in the track and field world started sending me messages and asking me questions about, what do you know about Dave Scott-Thomas? What’s going on atGuelph? He’s not turning up at meets all of a sudden, which is totally out of character. This is a man who lives and breathes running. And he’s not appearing with his team at various meets. And then I hear that he’s on leave and it’s a health related leave. Then it’s a personal related leave. The university’s not saying much. At one point, someone says to me, has anyone ever asked Megan Brown about what happened during her brief stint at the university of Guelph all those years ago? Because there’d been rumours about the two of them that obviously echoed out of Guelph. So one night I sat down in front of my laptop and stared at the cursor for probably about a half an hour trying to figure out what, how to write an email to Megan Brown. And eventually I, you know, stitched together a very kind of vague question, which I think this was something along the lines of, I’m sure you’ve heard rumours about a situation in Guelph involving Dave Scot- Thomas. I deeply apologize if this is totally off base or if there is, you know, this was just gossip that had no validity at all. But if there’s anything that you want to talk about between you and Dave Scott-Thomas, I’d be willing to hear you out. And I got an email back almost right away, and she said, uh, Michael, I’ve been holding this story in for, you know, over 15 years. And I feel like now is the time to finally talk about it and please, she gave me a call shortly after that. We had a very long first interview where she went through the entire story in great detail.
Jordan: Once you’d heard that story ‘and you started doing reporting around that aspect of it, what happened in the world of track and field at the university? Cause this, this broke some things wide open when it came out.
Michael: Yeah. So first things first is, um, I was horrified hearing this because I had heard the rumours myself as somebody who’s reported on the athletics world for a number of years, I’d heard these rumours for about a decade. And you know, you never know how to manage a rumour. Uh, you assume where there’s smoke, there’s fire, but I didn’t know any of the details. I didn’t know how she, how young she was. And when she went into great detail about, uh, her experience and about the manipulation and the power dynamic involved and the fact that her mom had died, which I did not know, um, and how vulnerable she was, I was horrified. And I felt a great deal of guilt. And I think that that’s something that’s echoing through the track and field community in Canada today, is that there’s a great deal of guilt about kind of having a sense of this story, but kind of gossiping about it. And when I began reporting on this, it’s a tricky situation because I can’t show my hand too much. And I also have to have a great deal of respect for, for the sensitivity of Megan’s story and her trust in me. And you also don’t want to slander anybody either. So the reporting was a, was tough because you have to kind of unwind these interviews, they’re very long interviews. I mean, over 70 people, and a lot of these interviews were over an hour long. I mean, I spoke to several athletes for two hours about this, kind of unpacking this, and piecing all of these details together. But from a institutional standpoint, uh, there was, um, a lot of pushback from the University of Guelph. Terse basic statements being sent in my direction in an attempt to control the narrative throughout all of this. And an attempt to look as though, when they felt the heat coming around the corner in terms of like my detailed list of allegations that we sent to them at one point, uh, that there was then a public response came out very quickly after that, that was, I think, fashioned to look as though they were offering it, you know, on their own, when in fact, they are aware that there was a story that was forthcoming. There’s also another institutional element of this, which is the Athletics Canada, the governing body of the sport. They were aware of this as far back as 2006. This was information that was passed on from CEO to CEO, and they still continued to leverage. Mr. Scott-Thomas is a national team coach. He was seen as sort of a guru type figure. So they had a lot to answer for. There’s been a big reckoning, um, and a lot– and a real break of trust between, uh, elite level athletes in this country and their governing body.
Jordan: Once the story came out or maybe even before the story came out, what happened to Dave Scott-Thomas?
Michael: Well, they put them on leave in the fall. It was a secretive leave. Nobody knew that he was forced on leave until it was, I think, convenient for the university to say that they had forced him on leave, once the story broke, and earlier this year. Um, and he has been fired from the university. His track and field club, which had over 400 members and significant designation in the track and field community in Canada has dissolved. And he has been suspended as a national team level coach, provisionally suspended by Athletics Canada while they investigate him further, and we’ll hear at some point later on this year, the results of that investigation. My anticipation is, is he’ll probably be banned from coaching and Canada for life. And he has gone into hiding. Um, he denies, uh, much of the reporting that I’ve done, uh, through his lawyer, although his lawyer would not indicate exactly what he denied. I’ve received one statement from his lawyer, uh, while we were preparing this. And since then we have not heard anything from Dave Scott-Thomas.
Jordan: What does it do going forward to this kind of tight knit community? There’s an Olympics coming up later this year. Presumably we’re sending a lot of these runners to the Olympics. What happens in a world like that, when something like this goes down?
Michael: I don’t feel good about this cause I’m a runner myself. I care deeply about this community. But someone said to me that this is kind of the most damaging thing that’s happened to track in Canada since Ben Johnson. And ripple effects of this had been significant. Uh, there were multiple potential Olympians training in Guelph at the time. They have, uh, scattered. And within the community itself, it’s really divided people. Uh, there are the Guelph alumni on one side who in many cases were victimized. I mean, one thing we’ve not really talked about was in the aftermath of the Megan Brown situation, Dave Scott-Thomas sort of distanced himself from very vulnerable athletes and actually became a fairly cruel coach to a certain type of athlete, a vulnerable, impressionable young, usually female athletes. And a win at all costs mentality kind of developed. That’s where he had all of his success, was in that aftermath, but it was– he kind of created this like a meat grinder, an athlete meat grinder at the university in order to gain that success. And so you’ve got this whole series of alumni from his program that had their own traumatic experience and they are now left answering questions and being criticized by others in the running community who feel as though they enabled Mr. Scott-Thomas, or perhaps should have known something or done more blown the whistle. Um, so there’s been an incredible amount of, uh, unfortunate infighting in the running community in Canada. It’s really torn the community apart.
Jordan: What happens next? Is there a way that a community as a whole can get past this, or is just going to have to play itself out and be fractured for a while?
Michael: I mean, I think the running community is a particularly vulnerable one when it comes to predatory behavior. It’s an individualistic sport. Highly self motivated kids. Really like precocious, vulnerable kids get involved in running. I mean, running is a really weird support, especially when you’re young. You’re suffering. I mean, it’s a sport where like, you know, in team sports, you go do laps for punishment, right? So you’re– there’s a certain type of kid who excels at running. Um, so what we’re seeing now is first of all, we’re having to, uh, deal with a reckoning and a reckoning of coaches in position of power who have abused that power. Predominantly male, older male coaches and younger female athletes. Um, this is a greater story that I’m exploring in sport right now. And so there’s that reckoning that has to, that has to take place, uh, where we have to create a safer environment for young athletes. So there’s that conversation. Then there’s the conversation of what to do about, like there’s a lot of blame kind of, finger pointing going on right now, and getting past that and healing those wounds as well is going to be significant, and I don’t really know how you get through that. I think there needs to be a lot of dialogue, a lot of open conversation, and that’s tough because when you attempt to have that conversation on social media, it often turns quite negative. I don’t know exactly where we go from here, but my hope is that this will open up a positive conversation about how to make sports safer and, uh, to allow good coaches to succeed and to flourish, and to weed out bad coaches, which I think there are– I mean, I’ve gotten a lot of tips since the story was published, so. Unfortunately.
Jordan: At least they’re giving you the tips.
Michael: Yeah. I’m exploring a lot of avenues right now, in both track and even outside of track.
Jordan: Thanks, Michael.
Michael: Thanks for having me.
Jordan: Michael Doyle is a freelance journalist who works with the Globe and Mail. That was The Big Story. If you’d like more, you know where we are, thebigstorypodcast.ca. I say it every time. You can also find us on Twitter and complain or praise at @thebigstoryFPN and we’re in every single podcast player on the planet. You have to find me one that we’re not in and show it to me. Apple, Google, Stitcher, Spotify, Downcast, which I had never heard of until today. Thanks for listening. I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings. We’ll talk tomorrow.
Back to top of page