“Why I Didn’t Say Anything” by Sheldon Kennedy

Date / Period
Object Type
Books, Guides and Manuals
Sheldon Kennedy, Insomniac Press, 2006

Sheldon Kennedy played parts of 10 seasons in the National Hockey League, after a successful junior career that included playing on the gold-medal winning Canadian Junior Men’s Hockey Team in 1988, and winning the Memorial Cup the following year.

Unknown to hockey fans all along however was what Kennedy was hiding: a history of sexual abuse by his junior coach, Graham James. In 1996 Kennedy revealed this past publicly. As Kennedy has explained in interviews and in his book Why I Didn’t Say Anything, he felt compelled to go public. “I had to say something or I was going to die," he told an interviewer in 2008, referring to a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse linked to the deeply-seated feelings of shame and guilt the abuse generated.

James eventually pled guilty to the charge that he abused Kennedy, and was criminally convicted of sexually abusing several of the players he coached in the 1990s. The broader legacy of Kennedy’s revelations has to do with abuse awareness in sports, and society more generally. Kennedy’s story has resonated around the world. He gave several others the courage to come forward, and he has supported numerous programs of abuse awareness and recovery in the 20 years since he told the truth about his days in junior hockey. His relationship with the Canadian Red Cross has been central to his cause.

After founding the Sheldon Kennedy Foundation, Kennedy embarked on a cross-Canada in-line skating journey in 1998 that raised money for abuse victims, and raised awareness about abuse. Red Cross personnel supported Kennedy during the trip, and hosted the concluding event on this tour. Kennedy donated the funds raised by the tour to the Canadian Red Cross, and decided to close his foundation and donate its assets to the Red Cross, a process completed in 1999.

“I’m not doing this work to win awards for Sheldon Kennedy. I’m doing this work because I understand the damage that this crime has on our kids.”

The Red Cross had already been working with various sport agencies – including Hockey Canada – to foster a culture of change in terms of abuse and harassment awareness and prevention in sports, and used the resources from Kennedy’s tour to bolster its violence prevention programs.

In 2004, Sheldon Kennedy and Wayne McNeil co-founded Respect Group Inc. to pursue their common goal: the prevention of abuse, bullying, and harassment. In 2007, Respect Education and Respect Group Inc. partnered nationally to bring the online Respect in Sport program to sport and recreation organizations. In September 2009, Hockey Canada announced the adoption of Respect in Sport training for coaches, managers, assistant coaches, and any adult with a supervisory role over youth involved in hockey.

Today, the Canadian Red Cross and Respect Group Inc. work together to provide abuse, bullying, and harassment prevention training for adults in sport, school, and workplace environments.

By coming forward with his story of abuse, and by following up on it with the support of the Red Cross, attitudes have changed, and abuse prevention programs are spreading. Over time, this work has earned Kennedy recognition from various quarters.

In 2014 he was awarded the Order of Canada. At the time he said, “I’m not doing this work to win awards for Sheldon Kennedy. I’m doing this work because I understand the damage that this crime has on our kids.”

“Why I Didn’t Say Anything” by Sheldon Kennedy

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