Sheldon Kennedy: Portrait of a hero

By Charlene Booy
Garden Valley Collegiate
Winkler, Manitoba

Nineteen ninety-six will be a year to remember in the hockey world, and all across the country. Former NHL and CHL player, Sheldon Kennedy came forward with stunning accusations of sexual abuse against his former CHL coach, Graham James.

Kennedy's public revelation of the sexual abuse he endured while he played for the Swift Current Broncos has opened many doors that were never to be unlocked. Awareness of sexual abuse spread throughout the country, and Kennedy's courage and willingness to reveal his secrets has caused others to come forward and take a stand on this problem. Paul Jackson of the Calgary Sun said, "He is, in every way, a true Canadian Hero."

Sheldon Kennedy


Kennedy's performances on the ice were amazing, and he led his teams to many victories, but his greatest victory will be the one he will win off the ice, for victims of sexual abuse.

Kennedy's story has caused many (government, organizations, parents, athletes, NHL, and CHL) to reconsider and refocus on the role that sports play in the lives of today's athletes.

Dan Giesbrecht, vice-principal at Garden Valley Collegiate and a former Level 5 hockey coach, worked with Sheldon Kennedy in his earlier years.

"I was surprised when I found out about Sheldon. I have seen many coach/player relationships, but never any evidence of abuse," said Giesbrecht.

The role of the coach in an athlete's life is much like the role of a father in a child's life. The coach holds much power to build or destroy the athlete. Like a father, he can direct his players in a positive way.

However, he may also use his power in a negative way, forcing an athlete into submission. Athletes will respond. They love their game, and the serious ones will do whatever is possible to increase their level of play or to optimize their potential for further play.

This can lead to the coach taking advantage of the athlete. Kennedy has said that one's coach is everything when one is playing the sport one loves.

Sheldon Kennedy has come through the abuse, with hard work, with family counselling, and with help from his supportive wife. He is now determined to open the eyes of society to the dark side of sport and to bring hope for those who have been victims of sexual abuse.

Kennedy took matters into his own hands, when he organized a cross-country skate to raise awareness for sexual abuse and money for Anaphe Ranch, a rehabilitation centre for abused children.

Public awareness through seminars with coaches and athletes are also underway. These seminars focus on defining the role of a coach in an athlete's life. It is important for the athlete to realize what role the coach plays very clearly, and how to stay away from potentially dangerous situations.

Meanwhile, coaches will be given specific guidelines as to their responsibilities as a coach, and positions which they are not to take regarding an athlete. This information should give players the knowledge they need to recognize danger and react, as well as give coaches a clear line to follow with their athletes.

Sheldon Kennedy's agonizing story, and the darkness he had to hide, has become a light to the rest of athletics and a refuge for many hurting athletes across the country. His courage has brought hope to many.


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