Chris Phillips Resigns From Senators Community Foundation Role

Photo: Chris Phillips was named as the first executive director of the new Ottawa Senators Community Foundation in August 2020. He resigned from that position. (Tyler Fleming/CTV News Ottawa)

Whenever the Ottawa Senators build some positive momentum with their performance on the ice or the anticipation of what the team could this offseason, some piece of negative PR rears its head.

The Athletic’s Ian Mendes broke news yesterday morning on Twitter:

The Senators Community Foundation was established in August of 2020 after the Senators’ relationship with their old charitable arm, the Sens Foundation, deteriorated and caused both parties to go their separate ways. While Chris Phillips became the face and executive director of this new foundation, the Senators did well to convince Brad Weir to remain with the organization as its senior director to do a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

I’ll come back to Weir in a minute.

Later in the afternoon, two journalists piggybacked Mendes’ story to shed more light on what may have happened.

Inferring from their follow-up tweets, it not only makes it sound like Brad Weir was let go by the Senators’ organization as part of a cost-cutting measure. The way Friedman phrased his tweet made it sound like the decision to relieve Weir of his duties was made without Chris Phillips’ knowledge, consent, or consultation.

Imagine being Weir for a second. One year ago that the Senators ask you to help lead up their new foundation after you have spent many years working hard in the Sens Foundation. Rather than transition with your Sens Foundation colleagues to the new Ottawa-Gatineau Youth Foundation, what I presume is loyalty to the hockey organization that you committed years to serve, compels you to stick around. Less than a year later, that organization relieves you of your duties because they are putting their charitable arm on “pause”.

Putting charities on pause is not a new thing for Eugene Melnyk. After being launched in 2017, The Organ Project’s last social media post was in November of 2018 and its website has been down for quite some time. According to one CBC article, its phone number is no longer in service and the organization has not had one of its charitable galas in three years. A relaunch was promised for 2020, but thanks to the pandemic, we will have to wait a little longer to see whether this comes to fruition.

In all my life, I have never seen a sports franchise in one of the continent’s major sports put a “pause” on their charitable arm.

I have never heard of a sports franchise pausing the operations of its charitable arm. It’s an anomaly. Unique factors such as its infancy and the diminished revenue streams that caused the pandemic assuredly played a role here, but I would have an easier time understanding why the Senators Community Foundation was put on hold if this charitable arm was not created last year in the middle of this pandemic!

Fewer games, no gate revenue, fewer opportunities for in-person events because of the restrictions put in place on mass gatherings. What did the organization think was going to happen when all of these drawbacks were blatantly transparent last summer?

The absence of the Senators’ charitable arm is a tremendous loss for the community and now the organization is going to have to look at replacing its executive and senior directors before it can resume.

John Rodenburg from TSN 1200 made an excellent point on Twitter.

It is just another PR stain that this organization will somehow have to skirt around.

The shame in all this is that it’s affecting real people within the organization whose livelihood depends on work. When Eugene Melnyk bought lunches or ice cream for front-line workers, it is a great and thoughtful gesture. They deserve all the recognition and accolades for their role over the last two years, but I’d be lying if part of me did not believe this money could be better allocated.

Unlike many other professions whose work was disrupted and affected by layoffs or furloughs, front-line workers never relied on CERB to cover their monthly expenses like food and a mortgage. They will be the first to tell you that they do not need free food as a reward for the hard work that they do. They work in their respective fields because they get gratification knowing that they are helping people and trying to make things better when their patients are often experiencing their worst day.

Rather than spend that money on an easy headline grab, focus on the disadvantaged communities who were really hit hard by the pandemic or on your own employees who rely on their full income to make ends meet.

While speaking of acknowledging individuals, Chris Phillips deserves a ton of recognition for taking a principled stand. If he resigned from his position as executive director because Weir was let go without his consultation or knowledge, that speaks to his loyalty and care for the individuals who worked with him. To step away from that role and shine a light on the organization is such a high character move. It is the kind of leadership that is sorely missing in this organization’s hierarchy.

Other News and Notes:

  • It has been 20 years since the infamous Marshall Johnston fleece job that landed the Senators Jason Spezza, Zdeno Chara and the incomparable Bill Muckalt. With the help of Johnston and a few others, Ian Mendes excellently detailed how this franchise-altering trade came to be for The Athletic.

  • I neglected to mention this earlier in the week, but goaltender Marcus Hogberg has signed a multi-year deal with Linkoping HC of the Swedish league. Hogberg’s four-year commitment is surprising to me because it seemed like he was close to securing an NHL future in 2020. My assumption was that he may look overseas for a year or two, to rebuild his reputation before making an NHL return.

  • The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler has released his final top 100 2021 NHL Draft rankings this week.