Head coach Candice Moxley is back behind the bench for Western University’s women’s hockey team following an investigation led by London, Ontario, lawyer Elizabeth Hewitt. Western, a university in London, whose sports teams play in U-Sports, the rough equivalent of NCAA DI athletics, retained Hewitt in August, according to sources, to investigate allegations that Moxley pressured players to continue playing while injured, ignored mental health struggles, and failed to act when players repeatedly told her that strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watson had sexually harassed players. While Hewitt specializes in claims of workplace harassment, sexual harassment, abuse, privacy breaches, discrimination, and workplace violence, her affiliations with Brescia University College and King’s University College as a former board chair – both universities are affiliated with Western – raised questions about her ability to remain impartial.
Moxley has ties to Western New York, having played for Niagara University’s NCAA DI women’s team from ‘01-‘02 to ’04 -’05, serving as a captain her senior year, and led Buffalo State’s NCAA DIII team from ’13-’14 to ’16-’17. Moxley has been at Western since the ’18-’19 season, following a Clarkson Cup winning season with the Markham Thunder of the now defunct professional Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL). Sources told TSN that the allegations against Moxley specifically included claims that she “repeatedly told players she ‘didn’t care’ about their mental health, told her players they were all replaceable, and criticized players’ social media posts, telling players they wore clothing that was too revealing,” in addition to allegations that she failed to follow up on reports that Watson made inappropriate statements to players about their bodies and inappropriately touched some players.
Western University leadership appears to have showed an initial reluctance to respond to players’ concerns, and the ultimate decision to retain Moxley, while predicated on a finding by Hewitt that Moxley did not breach the school’s code of conduct, has continued to raise concerns among players and parents that the university has not taken appropriate action. Hewitt’s investigation substantiated the allegations against strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watson, who is no longer employed at Western. Previously, he had worked not only with women’s hockey but with all thirty-eight of Western’s varsity teams. According to reports, players first brought formal concerns about Moxley to the school’s attention in 2022. Then director of sports and recreation, Stephanie White, who has since left to take a position at Windsor, apparently took no action. It was not until June 28, 2023, that current director of sports and recreation Christine Stapleton met with players to discuss allegations of misconduct. While Western launched its investigation following the June meeting, according to sources, when a player asked during the meeting why “Moxley would be given a chance to continue coaching after allegedly ignoring repeated complaints of sexual misconduct, Stapleton did not respond.”
After the announcement by the school that Moxley was cleared of misconduct and would return as head coach, players wrote, in a November 2nd letter sent to school president Alan Shepard, that “We, the Players of Western’s Women’s Hockey team, will be boycotting any practices and games that Coach Moxley is involved in . . . concerns we brought to the university should not be taken lightly. Why is Coach Moxley’s treatment of us (past and present) being swept under the rug?”
Following a reiteration from the school that Moxley would return, the school sent an email survey to players on November 7th asking them to indicate their intentions on continuing to play. While players initially were given twenty-four hours to respond to the survey, the school later made the deadline more open ended. According to the school, the boycott letter was not reflective of the majority of players’ feelings and most players will continue with the program. Western has since played several games and this appears to be the case.
One of the ongoing storylines around the situation at Western is the refusal of the school to make public the final report related to the misconduct investigation. Western has insisted that they are not obligated to release the report and that they, in fact, may not because it contains information related to employment matters. TSN’s Rick Westhead tweeted on November 15th that the parent of a player had filed freedom of information requests with the school in order to obtain staff emails and the final report. The parent apparently dropped the request for emails after Western said the processing request would cost “an estimated $1,675” after allegedly initially leading the parent to believe that a waiver of the fees for FOIs were possible but unlikely.
From a liability standpoint, it appears that Western is acting on the premise that the allegations against Moxley fell into two distinct categories: those related to what could be termed “player relations” and those related to knowledge of sexual harassment. As the allegations of sexual harassment against strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watson were substantiated, it appears that there was not enough evidence that Moxley acted inappropriately in regard to reporting to warrant her removal. As student-athletes in Canada and the United States push for an increased say in their athletics experiences, it will be interesting to see how schools navigate between remaining responsive to student-athlete concerns while drawing distinctions between actionable complaints and those more closely related to individual coaching styles. Absent a finding that Moxley failed to act in regard to concerns about Watson, it would likely have appeared pretextual to fire her at this point. While seemingly odd that Moxley would not be held responsible for not reporting Watson’s alleged misconduct, it is also possible that she did make reports and someone else in athletics failed to act. As long as Western refuses to release the final report, these questions will linger. The women’s hockey team is off to a .500 start, so it is possible that if Moxley has lost the room, she will be gone after this season for performance related reasons.