As a Torontonian I am a proud Maple Leafs fan, whether they deserve my loyalty or not (and I don’t go to a Habs fan for a second opinion). But the NHL player getting all my appreciation doesn’t belong to either of these teams, and doesn’t even play in the league anymore. It’s Sheldon Kennedy, former Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames athlete, who is about to get the ultimate MVP award, the Order of Canada.
It’s well deserved, and it goes a lot deeper than helping Canada take home the gold at the World Junior Championships. Kennedy famously spoke out about being sexually abused by his Junior Hockey coach, but rather than continue to be a shamed victim, he has gone out of his way to help others, and conquering his own demons (alcohol and drugs) along the way.
Not only has Kennedy been vocal about childhood abuse, but he rollerbladed across Canada to raise awareness and money for sexual abuse victims, and helped found Respect in Sport program, where parents learn the right behaviour to support and protect their children in the sports world.
As if that’s not enough, he works actively with the Canadian Red Cross and volunteers daily at the institution he helped found, the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre. Athletes are often known for their ego, but Kennedy is clearly not one of them, telling the Toronto Star, “I haven’t been doing this work for the awards, but I must say I am very humbled personally, but yet very grateful that the issues that I represent have been acknowledged at such a great level.”
Much has been made this year of how difficult it is to come forward when you’ve been sexually violated, thanks to recent allegations directed at some high-profile personalities. It’s wonderful to see how Kennedy spoke out, and has used — and continues to use — his painful experience to help others.
Sheldon Kennedy deserves all the accolades he’s getting for being a role model in sports and in life.