Kennedy hopes U.S. can learn from Penn State sex scandal

Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy prepares to testify before a Commons committee on Parliament Hill in...

Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy prepares to testify before a Commons committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ont., Nov. 24, 2010. (BLAIR GABLE/Reuters)

MICHAEL PLATT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:19 AM ET

CALGARY - The dream was to be a hockey hero and inspiration to millions of kids, standing in front of an entire nation with the Stanley Cup in his hands.

Sheldon Kennedy is still a hero. But instead of inspiring children, he’s protecting them, standing in front of an entire nation to tell parents they need to do more — they need to take notice, and listen,

“There were huge signs, if you look at Theo (Fleury), and you look at my lifestyle as a young kid — I had to go to Graham’s twice a week, and wasn’t getting home until five in the morning,” said Kennedy.

“Nobody really picked up on any of that.”

Had someone noticed, and more importantly, had someone asked the right questions, it’s possible Kennedy might have escaped the clutches of pedophile Graham James, a respected coach with a lust for kids.

Kennedy lost a promising NHL career to guilt, grief and addiction before finally breaking his silence and redefining his life in the spotlight.

On Tuesday, he stood in front of what might be the most important audience of his life, addressing the U.S. Congress as sport’s most famous face of abuse.

“Punishing the bad guys makes us feel good, but it doesn’t fully solve the problem,” Kennedy told the Senate hearing, triggered by the recent abuse scandal at Penn State.

Ten boys were allegedly raped and molested by Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, who now faces 52 grand jury counts of sexual abuse.

It’s a scandal that’s shaken U.S. sports, both for its depravity, and the apparent blind eye turned to what was allegedly an obvious case of serial sexual abuse, including rape in public showers.

And so Kennedy was summoned to congress, where the Calgarian was asked what might be done to stop future predators in a position of trust over children, much like Graham James.

“In my case, my abuser was International Hockey Man of the Year,” Kennedy told the hearing.

“In Canada, that gave him almost God-like status. Sound familiar? The man who preyed on me took advantage of his position as a coach to look for children who were especially vulnerable — single-parent households, families with drinking problems, boys who needed a father figure, etc.

“These kids, and often their parents too, looked up to him as a hero. This was someone who could make their dreams come true and he used that trust to hurt them.”

James pleaded guilty last week to sexual assaults involving two former players, including ex-Flames star Theo Fleury, who stepped forward with abuse accusations more than a decade after Kennedy.

The Canadian pedophile previously served 3 1/2 years in prison for abusing other players, including Kennedy, who fought shame and depression to bring his molester to justice.

Speaking to QMI Agency after his address to Congress, Kennedy said in one way, the high profile of Penn State may end up saving many children in the U.S. from predators previously hidden by the sports system.

He said his own fame as an NHLer and James’ prominence as a winning coach made child abuse front-page news in Canada, taking the issue out of the shadows.

“Both me playing in the NHL and Graham being a high profile coach, it’s sad to say, but sometimes we need something to rock us at our core to be able to make change,” said Kennedy.

To have his life defined as the victim who broke the silence, rather than as a Manitoba kid who made the big leagues, is something Kennedy says he’s accepted.

“You find yourself in situation like I did, in a position to make some change, and you do what you think you need to do,” said Kennedy.

“Being Sheldon Kennedy, people try to make you the face of this, because of who you are — and so I decided to make the best of it. I’m just grateful I can carry this message to this place, today.”

That the message has now reached the highest possible level is a major achievement — even if Congress is not where Kennedy hoped to make his mark.

“Giving people the confidence to ask questions is the main thing,” he told QMI Agency.

“We can’t stop child abuse, but we can stop it from being institutionalised and going on for a long time.”

michael.platt@sunmedia.ca


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