You’ve got a friend Nathan
By Jeromie Williams, Canada Headlines Examiner
Last month, as the riots in Vancouver erupted and gave way to a sweeping public naming and shaming campaign unheard of not just in Canadian circles, but the entire world abroad, heated sentiment boiled over and cast a scolding glare on the first wave of rioters to be outed on websites and television, and in particular, one 17-year-old Olympic water polo hopeful who will forever be immortalized as “the kid who tried to set that cop car on fire.”
One day after the Vancouver riots Nathan Kotylak was outed by an unknown source close to him as the person in the now infamous photo of a young back pack toting rioter setting alight a shirt sleeve stuffed into the gas tank of a cop car. The image has traveled to the furthest reaches of the web that the Internet will allow, and has become a galvanizing battle flag hoisted by online groups calling for justice, and more pointedly, Kotylak’s banishment from all things Olympic.
A history lesson on the Vancouver riots
The initial outrage over the water polo star’s actions on June 15th led to a tearful television appearance on the 18th in which Nathan Kotylak waived his right of anonymity as a young offender and made apologies to nearly every person he had met in his life, every athlete he had competed with or cheered for and every athletic organization or agency he had admired or been part of. He wanted everyone to know he was “sorry”, but many were only swayed to an even more polarized position and moved towards further action.
Evidence begins to stack up
As the Kotylak family fled from threats of harm to property and person, online groups assembled en mass and began producing video and photographic evidence depicting a string of fires, incitement and an alleged assault against a female, all perpetrated by Nathan Kotylak.
Crawling out of the wood work
Ex girlfriends publicly waxed and waned in their contempt and support of the 17-year-old on Facebook, while across the online waters hundreds began signing their names to a petition calling for Kotylak’s dreams of Olympic glory to be dashed.
Denouncement of groups mobilized in opposition to Kotylak’s alleged riot spree reached across national borders when a resounding “thumbs down” was delivered via Twitter by famed film critic Roger Ebert, who in his own words labeled some involved as a “lynch mob.”
The unofficiated ultimate dodge ball match between “Pro Nathan” and “Pro Canadian Values” groups went into a forced half-time break when a former Canadian Olympic Champion stepped into the middle of the fight and called for cooler heads to prevail and moderate minds to step forward.
Canadian Olympic Gold Medal rower Adam Kreek drew reflexive and immediate fire from news outlets and online groups when he asked in a special editorial for the Vancouver Sun that citizens across Canada not deny Kotylak, or any troubled youth for that matter, the opportunity to draw from the life long benefits that he feels sport can offer in both developing and first world countries alike.
“Sport is a valuable building block of our society that channels the youthful and aggressive tendencies from kids like Nathan” wrote Adam Kreek for the Vancouver Sun. “Sport taught Nathan that there are rules that we must follow. He got it. He understands his fault. Why else would he repent on national television?”
“How many people” continued Kreek “are out there who robbed, destroyed and pillaged, and have not repented? Don’t get me wrong, Nathan should still face consequences that are meaningful and relevant to his offence – volunteer work, fines, community building activities – but he should not be banned from his chosen sport.”
Astounded by this support for Nathan Kotylak, some online groups fired back at Adam Kreek with a volley of pointed questions that until today have remained relatively unanswered.
Kreek was forthcoming in an interview with the Canada Headlines Examiner about his support of Nathan Kotylak saying that “I came to the defense of Nathan Kotylak for a number of reasons. Because some of the debate cycled around his eligibility to participate in international sporting competition, I knew my history as an athlete and Olympic medalist would give me a loud voice.”
“I am a big supporter of restorative justice,” explained Kreek, which “focuses on healing the community harmed by a crime, finding closure for the victims of a crime, and, finally, ensuring that meaningful consequences are given to the criminal with the long term intent of reintegrating the debtor into society after his or her debts are paid.”
It may just be that Adam Kreek’s life long love for sport was also a flagship motivation for stepping into the ring in defense of both Kotylak’s involvement with Water Polo Canada, and a future bid for the Canadian Olympic team.
“I stepped in because I am a believer in sport” said Adam Kreek. “Having served as a big brother for over a decade, and being involved in various organizations like Kids Sport, Right to Play, the Canadian Olympic Committee or Clean Air Champions, I have seen the power of sport used to implement positive social change.”
“After seeing the online wrath and lack of temperament geared towards this Kotylak kid,” Kreek continued “I saw an opportunity to communicate my deeper values to my compatriots.”
Added Kreek, “Sport is valuable to our society. We can use sport to build stronger communities.”
Adam Kreek feels strongly that involvement in sport is a universal opportunity for any youth to build character, decision making skills and a sense of community, which are the same values that those calling on an Olympic ban for Kotylak say were not displayed on the night of the Vancouver riots.
“Nathan is 17-years-old” explained Adam Kreek. “A majority of the rioters were young adults, and a majority of the violent acts were committed by young men aged 18-25. Learning to control and channel your energetic state in early manhood is invaluable to maintaining peace in our society.”
“More to the point,” continued Kreek “I believe Nathan’s involvement in sport gave him a deeper understanding of the wrongs he committed. He understood the responsibility of team. He understood the need to take quick responsibility for his poor choices. This hurts more in the short term, but makes a stronger community in the long term.”
Kreek pointed out however that “Nathan is still a kid; a young man. If he tried to burn a cop car at the age of 40, I would have said nothing.”
The support that Adam Kreek initially extended to Nathan Kotylak was received by many as a blanket forgiveness or a naive blindness towards what the young water polo player is accused of having done during the riots, but with the right questioning Kreek’s stance becomes much more apparent.
“Nathan should face meaningful consequences for his alleged crimes” explained Adam Kreek. “All of them.”
“The victims and the community should be satisfied with his punishment” he continued. “We should also recognize that once his debt is paid, he will have 60 plus years as a Canadian citizen and we must keep reintegration in the front of our minds when dispensing justice.”
Kreek goes further to define his position, specifically to the online groups so vocally opposed to Nathan Kotylak representing Canada on the national or Olympic teams by reminding them that one of Canada’s current Olympic heroes dealt with a troubled past before winning multiple medals in both the winter and summer Olympics.
“I completely understand” said Adam Kreek “why some of the public would not want Kotylak representing Canada. Nathan’s violent acts are un-Canadian.”
“However,” Kreek defended “I would think the majority of these people hold [Olympians] like Olympic Medalist Clara Hughes in high esteem; a woman that was very mischievous when she was 17.”
Kreek continued to finish his point by calling out the fact that “Clara is a hero because she used sport to overcome her troubled youth.”
Troubled pasts aside, Adam Kreek does not seem to feel that a controversial back story such as Nathan Kotylak’s would diminish accomplishments and coverage of other Canadian Olympic athletes on the world stage, and instead, Kotylak’s inclusion would be held up as a success story in the Olympic narrative, if, that is, Nathan even ever makes it onto the Olympic team.
“From my limited observations,” said Adam Kreek “Nathan has an outside chance of ever becoming an Olympian.”
“Once Nathan has paid his debt, and if he keeps his nose clean,” continued Kreek “I am sure that he will be held as a hero.”
“These are the inspirational stories that define the Olympic narrative,” Kreek followed.
Understanding that many Canadians, especially those in Vancouver, are having difficulties in dealing with their emotions over the riots and in particular the striking images showing Nathan Kotylak as a participant in the chaos, Adam Kreek is steadfast in his conviction that active participation in the restorative process is key to lasting and meaningful change.
“Join your local restorative justice organization” urged Kreek “and participate as a community member. You can work with criminals and victims to find meaningful consequences for their crimes.”
“Don’t just sit and complain” encouraged Kreek. “Do something meaningful in your community. Actions have a volume 100 times greater than words and opinions.”
And in what is probably the most telling remark, one that will undoubtedly resonate with his detractors, Adam Kreek is candid that as a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee if he were asked today to vote on whether to allow Nathan Kotylak to compete on the Canadian Olympic team, his answer would be clear.
“Nathan does not have the skill nor the maturity to make the Olympic team today” he said.
Our delegates look forward to and appreciate the opportunity to be inspired. Adam Kreek certainly provided that! From his tales of defeat to the incredible successes he experienced, Adam took us on his personal journey evoking tears of empathy, the sound of laughter and applause for a job well done. The sponsor for the keynote said that he was proud to be a Canadian and to have his company be affiliated with someone like Adam. We will be recommending Adam to all our provincial and territorial partners for their conferences.
Manager, Parks and Recreation, Ontario