REGINA — The general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders wiped a tear from his eye as he stood in court and apologized for sexually assaulting a teenage girl who was babysitting his children.
Eric Tillman, whose trial was to begin Monday, pleaded guilty to the encounter in the summer of 2008 when the girl was 16 years old. He said he was “profoundly sorry” for what he did to the teen, his family and the entire Roughrider organization.
Both the Crown and the defence have asked for a discharge, although they did not make it clear whether they prefer it to be absolute or conditional. The judge is to hand down his 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.
Court heard Tillman came up behind the teen, wrapped his arms around her, put his thumbs through her belt loops and pulled the girl towards him.
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,” court heard.
He said he did not remember how he got home from the office or what happened with the babysitter, who he said was extremely popular with his two children.
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 incident 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.