Now that Theoren Fleury has torn the cover off his past and admitted to being sexually abused by a former hockey coach, Sheldon Kennedy knows what will happen next. The media will call, the public will ask questions and the pain won't go away.
"In my experience, its tough going," Kennedy said when excerpts from Fleury's book Playing With Fire went public yesterday, echoing much of what Kennedy said 13 years ago. "This is not the end of the healing; this is the beginning of everything."
Fleury acknowledged what many in the hockey world had long suspected: he had been abused by Graham James, the former WHL head coach who was convicted in 1997 of committing more than 350 sexual acts on Kennedy and another unnamed player.
Driven to drug and alcohol abuse by the shame of his experiences, Fleury writes in his book: "The direct result of my being abused was that I became a f-king raging, alcoholic lunatic. [James]destroyed my belief system. The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling what I thought was wrong was right."
Fleury adds: "Graham was on me once or twice a week for the next two years. ... An absolute nightmare, every day of my life."
James's despicable exploitation of two of his smallest, most vulnerable players - Fleury and Kennedy - was enabled by his control over their hockey careers and their dreams of making it to the NHL.
Fleury notes it didn't help that his dad was an alcoholic, while his mother was muddled by her prescription medication. In the hands of a master manipulator, the Fleurys believed they were doing the right thing turning their son over to James.
"I had rarely seen them like this - happy," Fleury writes of his parents. "Their boy had made it. My dad was no longer a worthless drunk and my mom drugged out and helpless."
Kennedy detailed his horrors in his 2006 book, Why I Didn't Say Anything. He never identified Fleury in any of his accounts and when previously asked, Fleury always refused to say anything about James.
For Kennedy, writing as a soul-cleansing act was good to a point but far from a cure-all.
"There are things people want to know from Theo: why help with the Hitmen [the Calgary-based WHL team once partially-owned and coached by James] Why the denial in his first book? [ Fury: Inside the Life of Theoren Fleury]" Kennedy said. "I also know what happens when there's a disclosure and all sorts of stuff starts coming at you. It doesn't make it all go away.
"I care about Theoren in all of this. I want to make sure when all the hoopla and the rodeo ends that Theo Fleury cares about himself."
Fleury spoke in limited depth about his struggles during his recent NHL comeback bid with the Calgary Flames at 41. While he didn't make the team, he played admirably, scoring four points in four games before saying he was at peace with "leaving the game on my terms."
Kennedy played one last NHL season with the Boston Bruins after his revelation, and said there were many times when he questioned what he'd done and where he was headed.
"When I needed people the most wasn't when I was busy, it was when I had time to think about things - did I make the right decision? What am I doing? I made this disclosure and I still feel like crap," Kennedy said. "I know the feelings are always going to be there."
Today, Kennedy and business partner Wayne McNeil run Respect Group Inc., a company that provides informational programs on abuse, bullying and harassment. RGI's work with the Red Cross has introduced Kennedy and retold his story to tens of thousands of coaches and athletes, male and female, through Hockey Canada and other associations.
As an aside, Kennedy wondered what legal action could be taken, if any, given Fleury's on-the-record accusations.
"My thing is there's a legal responsibility in all this. Someone's going to have to charge Graham. This is a whole separate area [from the earlier charges against James]" Kennedy said. "It needs to be confirmed with a charge. How do the police handle this? It'll be interesting how this is played out."
Fleury is married, has four children and has stated he's been sober for four years.
Sources have stated James is living in Montreal and has nothing to do with hockey.
Kennedy, who lives in Calgary, has vowed if Fleury needs support, he will give it, knowingly. "I see Theoren on another level. There is a connection. I'll be here for him."Report Typo/Error