Roughriders GM Eric Tillman resigns after pleading guilty to sexual assault

The general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders has stepped down from the team after admitting that he sexually grabbed his children’s teenage babysitter.

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman is emotional as he speaks to reporters after receiving an absolute discharge in his sexual assault case at the Provincial Courthouse on Tuesday.

Saskatchewan Roughriders general manager Eric Tillman is emotional as he speaks to reporters after receiving an absolute discharge in his sexual assault case at the Provincial Courthouse on Tuesday.

REGINA — The general manager of the Saskatchewan Roughriders has stepped down from the team after admitting that he sexually grabbed his children’s teenage babysitter.

Eric Tillman resigned Friday, saying it would be easier for all involved if he moved on, an assessment the CFL team agreed with.

“There is no question that this is the best thing for the club,” Tillman told a news conference. “Without a doubt.”

Team president and CEO Jim Hopson said Tillman offered his resignation to the club’s board of directors. Tillman, 52, pleaded guilty Monday to sexual assaulting the girl in the summer of 2008.

“We agreed with Eric’s assessment that it would be very difficult for him to remain in his current role with the club and accepted his resignation,” said Hopson, adding the decision supports the team’s code of conduct.

There is no timeframe to hire his replacement.

Tillman said he already has an opportunity to work in the United States. He’d like to remain in the CFL.

“I fully expect to be working in the Canadian Football League at some point in the future,” he said.

Court heard Tillman was supposed to be at a team board meeting Aug. 6, 2008, but he was encouraged to go home by staff who thought he was acting strangely.

The girl, who was 16 at the time, was watching Tillman’s two children at the family’s Regina home when he arrived.

Crown prosecutor Bill Burge said she bent over as she fed one of the kids. When she stood up, Tillman put his hands on her hips with his fingers in her belt loops and “pulled the rear end of the complainant into himself.”

Burge said the contact was “clearly of a sexual nature.”

Defence lawyer Aaron Fox said Tillman wasn’t thinking clearly because he had taken a double dose of sleep aids and pain medication for a sore back. Employees at the Riders office described him as being “loopy” that day and Tillman doesn’t remember what happened, Fox told court.

Judge Murray Hinds said he believed Tillman was sorry for his behaviour and granted him an absolute discharge. That means he doesn’t have a criminal record despite pleading guilty.

Tillman has been on paid administrative leave from the CFL club since he was charged last February. However, he continued to work behind the scenes from his home throughout the season.

Originally from Mississippi, Tillman has enjoyed great success in the CFL as a general manager. He helped lead the Riders to the Grey Cup championship in 2007 and led the B.C. Lions and Toronto Argonauts to Grey Cup titles in 1994 and 1997, respectively.

He has also 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 team rewarded him with a contract extension through 2010.

When Tillman was hired by the Riders in 2006, he took over a team that had a tarnished reputation in the community because several players ran into trouble with the law.

He preached a message of respect and promised to clean up the team’s image. The Riders adopted a code of conduct requiring players to obey the law, act with honesty and integrity, respect others and take responsibility for their actions.

Three sources with extensive CFL knowledge told The Canadian Press earlier in the week that they’d be surprised if the Riders kept Tillman on board. One explained that it would be hard to have him as the face of the team given that he publicly backed the Riders code of conduct.

Tillman said outside the courthouse Tuesday that he hoped the mistake would not cost him his job.

“I love this franchise dearly. We’ve moved here, our family is here and I would love to stay,” he said.