Fleury closes the book on his past

Former NHL star Theoren Fleury's new book delves into his sexual abuse as a teen as well as his...

Former NHL star Theoren Fleury's new book delves into his sexual abuse as a teen as well as his substance abuse problems as an adult. (Al Charest/SUN MEDIA)

MARGARET SHERIDAN, SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 5:07 PM ET

TORONTO - It wasn't until he'd hit rock bottom, drunk, alone and with the cold barrel of a loaded gun in his mouth, that Theoren Fleury decided it was time to live.

And when the day came that the former NHL star was able to face his past head on, he took it one step further: he wrote a book.

And it's all about healing.

“I wanted people to kind of understand why everything went off the rails,” Fleury said in an interview with Slam! Sports. “I wanted to get this all on paper, to look at it and put it in its rightful place, which is in the past, and move forward.”

His autobiography, ‘Playing with Fire’, hit the shelves on Wednesday and opened the door for the public to peruse some of the most painful parts of Fleury’s life.

Hockey fans knew Fleury had battled substance abuse issues for a big part of his 15-year career, a battle that overshadowed a great career in which the diminutive 5’6” forward scored 1,088 points through 1,084 career games.

“Once an addict, always an addict,” Fleury explained when talking about his long road to recovery. “It’s a daily issue that I still have to stick to.”

But while his problems with drugs and alcohol eventually derailed his career, in a roundabout way it was hockey that put him on that track in the first place.

He traces his alcoholism back to his major junior career with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors, four seasons where Fleury fought personal demons to carve out a path to the NHL. The game was his only escape from an underprivileged childhood and a family dynamic that had him lashing out in anger on several occasions.

But once he got that break, the chance to play in the WHL, his personal problems grew just as quickly as his reputation as a great player.

Fleury’s book reveals what many had already guessed, that he had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of his junior coach, Graham James.

"I knew that at some point in my life that I was going to have to deal with the Graham James stuff,” Fleury explained when asked why he chose now to reveal the abuse. “I’m truly ready to face whatever it is I need to face. I'm sober- I’ve been sober for four years.

“I understand a lot more about what happened to me and why I did the things I did.”

And the abuse, the extent of which is graphically explained in his book, is what led the teenaged Fleury straight into the path of alcoholism.

“When I found alcohol I was like ‘Wow, this is a great way to numb out’ so I didn’t have to feel what I was feeling,” Fleury revealed. “We all know alcohol is a progressive disease, you kind of see where I'm ok and I’m functioning (then) I’m not functioning and it’s getting worse and worse. Then you get to the heavier drug use. Then you get to suicide. And then finally I have to make a decision: Am I going to live or am I going to die?

“And that’s when I chose to live and that’s the day I stopped drinking and started to clear up the wreckage of my past. And that’s when I started writing the book.”

His revelations about James, who served three years in prison after one of Fleury’s former teammates, Sheldon Kennedy, went public with the abuse he had suffered at James’ hands, raise a larger question though: What about the Calgary Hitmen?

The WHL team, which both Kennedy and Fleury helped bankroll in existence in 1995, hired James as head coach for their inaugural season. So why, knowing what James did, was Fleury’s motivation behind allowing him access to a new generation of kids?

“He still, at that point, held a significant amount of power over me still. I didn’t have any tools to deal with Graham,” Fleury explained, taking his time with the words. “With all the guilt and all the shame and everything that I felt, I couldn’t have made a decision either way.

“Am I sorry about the fact that I put some guys in danger? Yeah absolutely, I’m very sorry about that. And if I could change that part of it I would. But like I said I was in survival mode at that point.

“And Sheldon then comes out with his thing and that kind of came out of the blue, and I was just trying to survive the best way I could. Fortunately there were a couple of guys on the [Hitmen] board who were able to make that decision to get him out of there as quickly as possible.”

The autobiography, which weighs in at over 300 pages, is terrifying in its openness, but paves the way for what can almost be called a happy ending.

“It’s not hard to revisit because in the end I know that by me sharing my story here that if one person comes out… if one person gets help through my experience then this was all worth it.”


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