Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy has endured more than anyone should at any age, let alone as a child. In his memoir, Why I Didn’t Say Anything, Kennedy offers readers an exploration into a life of pain, intermittent joys, suffering, and finally, small redemptions.
If you’re looking for a “rags to riches” tale that inevitably sees a hero escape dire circumstances using only intestinal fortitude to achieve riches, fame, and glory, this is not the book for you. This is a raw telling of a life that still has so much left as the author is not yet fifty years old. I think the book’s greatest value is that Kennedy doesn’t pretend to have all of the answers and does not present the reader with a list of fixes. Quite frankly, he, and for that matter, none of us, have the answers as to why pedophiles prey on children, nor why it continues to happen with such startling regularity.
One of the key takeaways from Kennedy’s autobiography is that this can happen to anyone. It makes it a must-read for everyone, but especially, I would argue, young athletes. While we know that pedophiles will certainly look to groom certain individuals, ultimately, there is absolutely no cut and dried “model” victim. Class, “race,” ethnicity, and gender cannot determine a victim. We also know that victims of child abuse more often than not know their perpetrators. The idea that a stranger is the one to be most watchful of, is wrongheaded. Accounts of abductions by strangers make for better news, but tragically, in the end, children are most at risk in their own homes, or in the care of friends and relatives.
Kennedy offers an expose of how Graham James was able to masterfully manipulate families, hockey organizations, and in particular, young hockey players to position them for abuse. This occurred over several decades and his victim total will likely never be known. In the case of Kennedy, James was able to get him separated from not only his family (an issue with thousands of junior hockey players across North America every year), but from his billet family and teammates. By making him feel “special” while destroying his confidence, James could control the teenaged Kennedy and abuse hundreds of times.
Kennedy spirals into survivor mode and becomes an alcoholic as a teenager, and later uses other drugs in an attempt to cope with the effects of the abuse: shame, guilt, self-loathing and so forth. While his talent allows him to lead his team to a Memorial Cup, and World Junior championship while still in his teens, his pro career never develops the way it might have otherwise. How could it have? The fact that he could even play for three NHL teams in his career and be reasonably productive on the ice for many of those years, is a testament to Kennedy’s athletic talent and his resilience. His difficulties in coming to terms with his own abuse is further complicated when he comes into contact with James and sees him with other young victims.
The most rewarding, yet most challenging parts of the book, in many ways, are in the final third. You only hope that things will only improve for Kennedy, but they do not. He continues to struggle with drug abuse, multiple failed recoveries, financial difficulties, lost relationships, and an inability to quash his demons. There is no sugar coating of any of this, although his efforts with young people, and in helping to educate adults on abuse hold much promise. Ultimately, this is the most powerful message from Kennedy’s brave exploration – victims of abuse along with their closest family and friends are never completely rid of what they endure as young people.
Kennedy’s book is a must read. It is accessible and appropriate for teenaged and older readers. It is vital for everyone to talk about the issue of child abuse, and most importantly, vital that young people and their caregivers know the warning signs that perpetrators often provide when attempting to groom a child. Nurturing self-confidence and providing greater insights into prevention to our youngest citizens are two important factors in addressing this ongoing tragedy. Hope and a better future is something we can all focus on as advocates for children.