Sheldon Kennedy Continues to Empower

 Sheldon Kennedy continues to empower and inspire. The work that Kennedy and The Respect Group has done is truly awe inspiring. 

From school, to sport to the work place, Kennedy and the Respect Group continue to make a monumental difference in our country and beyond. 

Sheldon Kennedy is a modern day crusader. Kennedy is always there when we need him most. He always speaks from the heart. 

When Sheldon Kennedy speaks everyone listens. 

Here’s a series of articles documenting Sheldon’s and the Respect Groups impact on my life and my teaching career.

My Impromptu 2015 Interview with Sheldon Kennedy

“The Mission” 

When I first heard that Sheldon Kennedy was going to be speaking at the 2015 NBTA High School Council Day, I knew I had to be there! 

I’ve been teaching now for fifteen years and have heard countless keynote speakers over that time period and they have all been unique in their delivery and message. From an emotional Craig Kielberger to the feisty legendary NHL coach Jacques Demers, each keynote speaker has certainly brought their own unique experiences to the stage. 

In my opinion the NBTA has done a fantastic job year in year out bringing in some of the finest keynote speakers in the world. After hearing Sheldon Kennedy he certainly fits that criteria!

At about 7:30 am on Friday it dawned on me that I should try to interview Sheldon for a local weekly Sports talk show that I sometimes frequent “Across the Line” for Rogers TV.  I had been following Sheldon on Twitter for quite some time so I thought that I would reach out on Twitter at about 7:45 just to tell him I was looking forward to his message.  

For the next four hours I was on a mission!  

I must admit I broke the law on the way to conference on Friday morning. I broke the speed limit but I had to reach out by calling a great friend to acquire a local Rogers TV producer’s phone number to see if there was a minute chance on a whim that he was available to bring a hand held camera to possible get an interview with Sheldon Kennedy either before or after his key note address.  

I got the producer’s phone number and called him as soon as I got to the location. Mind you I still haven’t spoken to any representatives of the NBTA or more importantly Sheldon Kennedy for his permission. 

 My quest to interview Sheldon continued when the Conference was about to begin. I waited patiently for everyone to enter the Auditorium and quietly approached an NBTA representative. She was quick to point me in the direction of our President of the NBTA. I waited in the back of the Auditorium until he finished his introductory messages.  

As he made his way out of the Auditorium I knew this was my chance to corner or I mean approach him with regards to the details of my mission.  

The mission could have been thwarted at any opportunity if it hadn’t been for open minded and accepting educators. Our President was very open to the concept and then quickly told me to text message the wonderful lady that was in charge of the presenters of the conference. You have to remember, I’m going through all the proper channels without even knowing that the local reporter was available! 

As I’m walking to my car to pursue more clearance to possibly interview Sheldon, my phone rings and its Denis (Rogers TV reporter). He was very excited at the possibility to set up the interview and we both realized the significance of the message. 

1) So producer and cameraman check! 

           At this point, I found myself in limbo while I waiting for confirmation from Sheldon’s managerial staff in fact an interview could be possible. It was at this stage of the process that I realized that it was totally out of my control.  

From a NBTA, perspective they brought a fantastic presenter to Moncton to deliver a very poignant and emotional message not to give some part time wannabe reporter/analyst a chance to interview him before or after his address. I frantically started preparing some possible interview questions in the slim hope of getting the interview.  

When another NBTA representative approached me with a smile on her face I realized that my mission was one step closer to completion. She said that “Sheldon and his manager are open to the interview before the presentation”

By this time it’s 10am and Sheldon was scheduled to arrive at 11:15am. So as I do with all my interview questions, I quickly forwarded them off to my great friends (Will and Chris) for last minute approval. Another phone call to the supervising producer (Charles) of the show and Denis (Rogers TV Producer) and we are business. 

Oh yeah at this point I have the interview but no location in which to conduct said interview! The scramble continued as I quickly returned to the nearby Auditorium to search for a quiet location for this impromptu interview. Let the pacing begin! After a quick discussion with the facility coordinator he lead me to a back stage make shift studio. 2) Interview confirmed check! 3) Location check! 4) Clearance from all known parties check!  

“The Man”

Everything is set, Denis the producer is on site the subtle studio is rearranged three times over as we await the arrival of Sheldon Kennedy one of the best known child abuse advocates in this country.  

I just imagine what many of on lookers sitting in the outer lobby of the massive convention center were thinking seeing the same guy pacing back and forth from the back stage entrance to the front doors.  Back and forth I went wondering how the interview was going to go over, wondering what kind of man Sheldon would actually be. 

From this year’s coverage of QMJHL on Rogers TV, I had roughly fifty interviews under my belt but this felt completely different.

I was anxious and nervous. I was representing the NBTA and Rogers TV but at the same time I wanted to showcase Sheldon’s unbelievable journey of healing and advocacy.  

Rehearsing the questions over and over in my head, I have to get this right!  As I have mentioned before, I always show or discuss the questions to whomever I’m interviewing to prevent awkwardness during the interview and also to create a relaxed atmosphere.  Given the seriousness of his journey I wanted to ensure that my questions were appropriate and captured the essence of why the NBTA felt compelled to bring Sheldon to New Brunswick.  As the pacing continued, I noticed that Sheldon and Wayne McNeil had arrived. 

I guess years of meeting NHLer’s through my collecting endeavors and having the opportunity to interview past NHL Alumni in other broadcasts created these misguided feelings of apprehension and nervousness.  All my interviews and encounters with past players have been very well received but the added intrinsic pressure to represent Sheldon’s journey was my main concern.

 However, the apprehension or anxiety I felt about meeting Sheldon and his representative disappeared the minute they entered the facility.  Wayne’s professionalism was apparent from our first handshake.  

As Sheldon signed a few autographs and took some pictures with some adoring fans, I quickly discussed the basis of the interview with Wayne.  

Sheldon’s calm demeanor coupled with his gracious genuine character was evident as I soon as I spoke to him.  Clearly this wasn’t Wayne and Sheldon’s first rodeo but they made this nervous wannabe reporter feel relaxed and important.  

For that I will be forever grateful.  As our conversation continued Sheldon’s innate ability to communicate effectively was ever apparent.  From my experiences over my fifteen year teaching career, so many people that have traumatic events occur in their lives seem guarded or private.  Sheldon’s outwardly honest and jovial personality was refreshing and yet again a calming factor.  

As I lead Sheldon back stage, his demeanor never changed, frequently having conversations and creating chemistry off camera rarely carries over on screen.  In Sheldon’s case our 5 min conversation in the lobby over a coffee and half eaten cookie was enough to sustain the momentum into the intro and the beginning of the interview. 

The lead up to gaining access to the interview, you would think I would have been prepared by that point to nail the simple fact of the intro or lead in to the interview. 

Clearly that wasn’t the case, my nerves got the better of me, as I awkwardly stumbled over the words and stopped taping.  Remember we are back stage while another keynote address is taking place.  Denis was quick to point out the ambient noise from the speaker directly above us.  Sheldon quickly looked up and spotted the dial to the speaker.  

So just imagine what’s going through Sheldon’s mind at this point.  He agreed to do an interview with a teacher/local TV reporter, the setting is make shift and he has to run quality control as well. Notwithstanding my brutal intro! 

The next ten minutes will probably be the most intellectual and informative interview that I will ever be a part of.  Just before the lead in to the 2ndtake of the interview, Sheldon calmly leaned over and said, 

“How much time do I have for each question” nervously I said “as much as you want, we don’t want to take up too much of your time” Sheldon’s relaxed calm personality slightly changed as soon as he started answering the first question. 

He dove in to the subject matter, with the same poise and intensity as a late game puck battle along the half boards in the defensive zone.  Sheldon’s in-depth insight and knowledge was supported by his incredible authenticity.

As I’m listening to his first answer, I’m left wondering how many times he has done this?  How many times has he answered the same questions over and over? How many awkward reporters has he encountered?  

Sheldon’s innate ability to convey his message was empowering and educating, he didn’t use the opportunity to boast or self-promote.   Sheldon’s desire to inform and shed light into his past traumatic experiences has become a beacon of strength and empowerment for many.  I had to end the interview with a question I’m sure he has answered thousands of times throughout his own personal journey of healing and advocacy.  Sheldon what do you want your legacy to be within the game of hockey and advocacy? 

In my opinion, his legacy within the game of hockey will be ever etched in prevention, protection and education.  Sheldon Kennedy’s legacy is still growing every time he passionately conveys his message. His impact in the game of hockey and in our society will be felt for decades.

For me to have the opportunity to hear his inspiring journey in a small make shift back stage studio was emotionally up lifting, and further cemented the importance of having quality coaches and educators in place to fundamentally aid with advocacy not only in our sport and schools but more importantly in our society.

“The Message” 

           The opportunity to interview Sheldon Kennedy was a tremendous honor and hopefully conveyed the importance of his message, one of healing, prevention and his impact in the area of child abuse advocacy.  In my opinion, the NBTA representatives were a little apprehensive that the interview may be sport focused.  I quickly reassured them that the main focus of the interview was to showcase Sheldon’s impact off the ice. 

To witness his professionalism and poise first hand will be something that I will cherish and carry with me for years to come.  I realize that it was only a ten-minute interview but it was the entire experience that has definitely had a lasting impression on me.

 Fortunately the keynote speaker before Sheldon’s address went a little over his allotted time period so it gave me a chance to talk to Wayne McNeil and Sheldon a little more in detail with regards to their programs and the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Center.  I was so fortunate to have a sneak preview of Sheldon’s presentation back stage, but I to anxiously awaited his speech.

There was a brief moment that both Wayne and Sheldon asked me if I was sticking around?  I hope my response didn’t sound to blunt, “for sure, I will be front and center”  Wayne had given me some insight on the structure of Sheldon’s presentation and said that he would be reading a few excerpts from his book.  At that moment, I knew that his message was going to be as raw as the interview. 

The timing of Sheldon’s presentation wasn’t the greatest to garner a capacity crowd. The 12 to 1 time slot didn’t phase Sheldon.  As educators poured into the Auditorium after an abbreviated lunch period they settled in for an inspiring prerecorded intro the left the audience with chills.   Sheldon standing directly in front of me by the stage was clearly focused. The same focus of NHL player before stepping on the ice, Sheldon walked on the stage to vociferous round of applause from hundreds of educators.

Without wasting anytime Sheldon delivered a compassionate opening statement and the raw emotion of a past victim of abuse filled the room.  The tone was set, the tone that Wayne had eluded to back stage, hit the crowd hard. Even the silence of the room was saddened by Sheldon’s opening message and excerpt from his book.   The tone of a past victim that had told his story was apparent by the raw emotion that at times came streaming down Sheldon’s face.  On the verge of countless emotions Sheldon’s honest and passionate message left the room crying one minute and cheering the next. 

Sheldon’s impact on that day left a lasting impression on many, especially this educator and coach.  I’m not going to describe or recount any more of Sheldon’s message that day.  To be brutally honest with you, Sheldon Kennedy is the best keynote speaker that I have ever seen.  Clearly my description will never fully capture the essence of his message. 

Sheldon Kennedy’s personality, character and willingness to share his experiences both past and present is truly the stuff of legend.  In my opinion the true indicator of a quality keynote speaker is their ability to elicit awareness, change and progress within their specialized field.  

Sheldon Kennedy embodies all of these attributes and many more.  Sheldon’s message and impact is still reverberating through the world of sport and our society.

His legacy continues……….

The Reason Why?

Originally Published 2016

        Unfortunately I became drawn to a picture that I found of Sheldon Kennedy and his abuser when doing some research before implementing the Respect in School program this past year.  I really try hard not to use Sheldon’s abuser name when discussing and implementing the program or viewing “Swift Current”.   

       Discussing sexual abuse and maltreatment with fourteen year olds in a classroom setting is very difficult. A few days before the start of the program or movie, I always invite our guidance counsellors in to discuss their role in the school and some of the issues they deal with on a daily basis.  The main reason and end goal for bringing in the counsellors is to ensure students feel comfortable sharing or open to sharing their past or current experiences with teachers and counsellors alike. 

With everything set in place I start to tell the students about Sheldon Kennedy’s story meanwhile keeping this picture in my mind to express the importance of being aware, identifying and reporting suspected abuse.  

         When I look at this picture I see a young kid, a great hockey player, but a kid that needed someone to help him, a trusted adult to step in and talk to him.  That’s the platform I use when getting myself ready to deliver the curriculum to my students. 

 I get very emotional discussing Sheldon Kennedy’s story because I reflect on my own experience.  My hockey experience was truly amazing!  I had a coach and mentor who saw something in a little boy at the age of 7.  He identified me at a Fall power skating clinic and the rest is history.  He coached me for the rest of my playing days with exception of one season. His professionalism, class and dignity left a lasting impression.

        I talk about my former coach and mentor frequently in class and emphasize how he impacted my life both on and off the ice.  I’m truly hurt and saddened reflecting on Sheldon’s journey through the game of hockey compared to mine.  

In no way am I comparing myself to Sheldon Kennedy as a hockey player, I just wish Sheldon would have shared the same experience I had growing up in the game. 

 The reason that I’m so driven and relentless in implementing the Respect in School program and showcasing “Swift Current” in my classroom is based solely on these two pictures. Preventing abuse, bullying and maltreatment from happening in our society should be of vital importance.

Meeting and interviewing Sheldon a year ago inspired me not only as a broadcaster, but more importantly as a teacher and person. Implementing the program first to Gr.9/10 students then to our entire staff was one of the most rewarding things I have done in my fifteen-year career.  

     Nevertheless, providing young men and women with the skills to be aware, identify and report suspected abuse is truly empowering.    

Sheldon Kennedy is a Modern Day Crusader

Sheldon Kennedy no longer hears the roar of the crowd. It’s been twenty years since he last skated in the 

NHL. It was work ethic, commitment, and determination that took him to hockey’s highest level. He now uses those attributes to help our children.

Sheldon Kennedy survived a childhood filled with anguish and pain. Now as an adult he’s on a personal crusade to prevent further abuse while helping past victims. Kennedy’s heart wrenching personal journey is one of hope and healing.  

When we first started this work over twenty years ago, we could clear a kitchen. Society is much more receptive today, we now know that child maltreatment is the root cause of substance abuse, early school drop out rates, homelessness, incarceration, self-harm and suicide”.

In 2016 “Swift Current” a documentary, which depicted Kennedy’s journey a long with others who have experienced sexual abuse, captivated the country. Kennedy is truly a global ambassador when it comes to child advocacy and is a beacon of hope and strength for countless people in our society who have faced abuse and the subsequent mental health issues that follow.

 “I certainly didn’t carry my lunch box to school every day thinking I would be doing this, maybe dreaming about scoring the winning goal in game 7 for the Stanley Cup. I found myself in this situation and decided, I could either sink or swim, I chose to swim” added Kennedy. 

Kennedy’s willingness to share his personal journey is a true indicator of his professionalism, compassion and poise surrounding a topic that unfortunately is still at the forefront of our society. 

“The small changes and advancements keep me going everyday, as I now know where they lead. I have come to know the importance of taking care of my mental and physical health, those are priorities for me now and I focus on those everyday”.

Kennedy has blazed the trail of awareness since 1997 after he disclosed being sexually abused while playing for the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL. Kennedy suffered unimaginable abuse at the hands of then head coach Graham James.

Kennedy a veteran of 334 career NHL games is now considered a top authority on child abuse advocacy and has tirelessly worked to raise awareness since his disclosure.

Kennedy and long time friend Wayne McNeil founded the Respect Group in 2004 in hopes of empowering the bystander with a comprehensive model and approach to identify and report suspected abuse. Kennedy realizes the true impact of the work he and McNeil have done by creating the Respect Group.

 “We decided in 2004 that it would be easier to train coaches and youth leaders on-line and we could provide a consistent message regarding the prevention of child maltreatment coast to coast in both official languages.”

The program uses an on-line platform for awareness, education and provides certification, with regards to recognizing abuse, bullying and maltreatment. Kennedy admits establishing the program was challenging at first.

The early days were tough, e-learning was new and the issue still scared organizations and making the program mandatory took real leadership. Slowly, the small wins multiplied and drove to bigger ones, I am so proud to say that we have certified over 350,000 coaches and youth leaders and 300,000 parents in the sport program.”

The Respect Group Inc. now offers three different platforms promoting awareness and training in sports, school and the workplace. The current “Respect In” programs were constructed out of the “Speak Out” program framework, which was built out of funding from Kennedy’s skate across Canada and a contribution from the Canadian Red Cross in 1997. “Speak Out” was exclusively used by Hockey Canada to educate coaches on the dangers and risks associated with child abuse in the game of hockey.  

 “People come up to me and say thank you, I wish I had taken that program sooner, it made me look in the mirror, I changed the way I talk to my daughter after her soccer game, when I hear that I know we are making a difference and it’s very gratifying.”

 In total the Respect Group Inc. programs have certified over 800,000 people and they are looking to break the one million mark by next year. Nevertheless, Kennedy strongly believes there is still work to be done in this area.

“I see posters, buttons and references in Provincial Education Acts like “schools must maintain a safe and caring environment”, but I still don’t see real action. So my message is, if there is a program that can empower and educate every teacher, admin, bus driver, custodian and parent volunteer in a province on their moral and legal duty of care why wouldn’t you implement it.”

The former NHLer applauds the effort of governments across Canada with regards to mental health but when asked if Canada has done enough to educate and help victims of abuse, Kennedy had this to say,

“Enough no, more than other countries absolutely, and my goal is to keep moving that bar.”

Kennedy’s relentless pursuit to help victims of abuse and to empower those in leadership roles is truly inspirational. Kennedy never one to shy away from a battle during his playing days possesses the drive and determination to continue to  lobby for change.  So what does the future hold for Sheldon Kennedy?

“Well I could not have predicted the last twenty years and will steer clear of predicting the next twenty, but there is still lots of meaningful and rewarding work to be done to make Canada the safest place for kids on the planet.”

Kennedy’s Mission Continues

Twenty years ago, Sheldon Kennedy was on a personal mission after disclosing the unimaginable sexual abuse he suffered while playing in the 1980’s in the Western Hockey League. 

Before embarking on his journey to roller blade across Canada to raise awareness, Kennedy told CBC News that he wanted “to enlighten people about the word abuse.” Kennedy’s trek was cut short after a controversial car accident.  After the incident in November 1998, Kennedy told the press that he had about eight beers before the accident, and the marijuana that was found in the vehicle belonged to him as well.

“For sure I still reflect on that, and sometimes I wonder what was I doing,” said the former NHLer. 

    “I wasn’t psychologically healthy enough myself to carry the burden of helping others. I was still dealing with my own demons,” confessed Kennedy. 

“Then I think, actually, it was one of the best things I ever did, it raised awareness, it was real and it left an impact.”

The skate raised more than $1.2 million for Abuse Prevention Services, part of the Canadian Red Cross.

Two decades after his courageous journey, Kennedy is taking his message of hope and healing across Canada once again, this time with a series of Q and A’s and public viewings of Director Joshua Rofe’s masterpiece ‘Swift Current’. The film depicts Kennedy’s personal journey along with two other victims of childhood sexual abuse. 

Kennedy is undoubtedly the busiest child advocate in North America, but he wouldn’t want it any other way. “I think everyone would say they have a hectic schedule, in my case, I am passionate about the issues we deal with, and I want to have an impact, that is what keeps me going,” explained Kennedy.

Kennedy understands the importance of a balanced life style given the rigours of his work. “Fitness is a priority, so that is a daily commitment,” Kennedy said.

“I also love farming and the escape it gives me from the day to day. Farming helps me clear my head and accomplish something that I can actually see, I’m a farm-boy at heart,” added Kennedy.

With the recent attention and momentum that the #Metoo movement has garnered across North America, Kennedy knows all to well the pain, sorrow and the gamut of emotions that those victims could be experiencing after disclosing their sexual abuse.

“It tells me that my situation was just one of many,” Kennedy said. 

“I know how tough it is to come forward and I applaud those that have now found that courage. Sometimes victims think that coming forward is the cure for how they have been feeling, perhaps for many years,” explained Kennedy.

“What I know is that coming forward is just the beginning of the healing, that said, with daily attention and commitment to work we need to do, leads to hope and a fulfilling life.”

Kennedy and long time friend Wayne McNeil Co-Founded the Respect Group in 2004 in effort to showcase their work on-line through three separate domains (Respect in the Workplace, Respect in School and Sport). 

The on-line platforms and “Respect In” programs are designed to provide the skills necessary to identify and report suspected abuse, which has recently surpassed 1 million users. 

Kennedy is proud of the programs accomplishments, but is anxious to see further growth. “There are still gaps to fill and the plan is to fill them. Athlete prevention education is one our Respect Resource line which is being expanded to help coaches and athletes access expert advice on dealing with issues within their sport environment,” explained Kennedy.

Kennedy’s impact in the area of child advocacy is resonating now more than ever with his tireless efforts and the creation of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, Alberta. 

SKCAC was created to help victims of neglect and sexual abuse. Kennedy hopes it will only be a matter of time before similar comprehensive models start being developed throughout the country.

“We have had visitors from almost every province and I think they walk away saying ‘this is a no brainer’,” added Kennedy. 

           “I think it is just about timing and the fact that the first step takes changes to legislation, that takes time and leadership, but it is coming,” Kennedy stressed.

Kennedy’s unwavering passion for child advocacy and relentless crusade to help the victims while empowering the bystander is truly heroic.

“Honestly, I have seen so many people over the years that are doing amazing work, like our frontline workers, they are my heroes,” added Kennedy.

Stand Up for Sheldon

Sheldon Kennedy had played 278 games at hockey’s highest level protecting a terrible secret.

In 1996, the year before joining the Boston Bruins, Kennedy disclosed the unimaginable sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Graham James while playing in Western Hockey League in the 1980’s. 

The entire hockey world was in shock. Kennedy remained hopeful a team would give him a chance to continue his NHL career.  The Bruins gave the gritty Brandon, Man. product that opportunity in 1996.  

“The organization was very helpful supporting me, especially given the circumstances.” 

“It was a great opportunity, but it was a very weird time in my life,” said Kennedy.

“I’m sure the Bruins, and I would love to have a redo on all of that. To be honest, it was a blur.” “I was playing for an amazing franchise, but I was fully enveloped with what was going on, dealing with the media, the impact on me and my family, everything.”

“I wasn’t able to make much of a contribution and would love to get that chance back. My teammates were great and I received a lot of support from other players in the league.”

Keep in mind, it was 1996, conversations about men being sexually abused were rare, especially in the game of hockey. Kennedy used one word to describe those early interactions with folks: “Awkard.”

Kennedy was an extremely gifted player at the junior ranks and led the Swift Current Broncos to the Memorial Cup in 1989. He also won the World Junior Championship in 1988. 

Drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in 1988 in the fourth round, 80th overall, Kennedy believed that once he entered the NHL his abuser wouldn’t impact his life any longer.

But in 2015 documentary “Swift Current” Kennedy admits that the Red Wings were getting “damaged goods.” In Kennedy’s case, like many others victims of sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol became a lifeline to numb out from the constant pain.

With a reputation as a partier, Kennedy only played 197 games with Detroit before getting traded to Calgary.   The Flames had believed a possible change of scenery would rejuvenate his career.

Kennedy managed 81 games over the next two seasons with Calgary – he even had a brief stint with AHL Saint John- as he struggled both on and off the ice. These were the days when he thought of the coming forward and disclosing the abuse.

James was coaching the Calgary Hitman of the WHL who shared the Saddledome with the Flames. Kennedy would see his abuser coaching young men. He finally had enough.

Kennedy does fondly remember his return to Calgary as a Bruin. The headlines in the local paper read “Stand Up for Sheldon”. 

“That was pretty amazing,” said Kennedy. 

“At that time there were still lots of people trying to deny that this stuff could happen, especially in hockey, so any time there is an opportunity to have media and fan support, it definitely helps.” “I also realized during that time that I wasn’t alone.”

Kennedy and good friend Wayne McNeil organized an in-line skate across Canada to raise funds and awareness for victims of sexual abuse after Kennedy retired from the game in 1997. It raised more than $1.2million for Abuse Prevention Services, part of the Canadian Red Cross.

Kennedy, however, was still struggling with the same demons that haunted him throughout his playing days.

Drug abuse, alcoholism, anxiety coupled with bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts plagued Kennedy in retirement. He believed suicide was the only escape.  Kennedy knew what kind of father and man he could be if he got sober, and fortunately, made a decision at that time to give rehab one more shot.

December 7, 2004 was the turning point in Sheldon Kennedy’s life. With the help of the NHL and NHLPA, Kennedy entered rehab and has been sober ever since. Kennedy and McNeil co-founded the Respect Group Inc. in 2004.

The Respect Group has three different comprehensive on-line platforms to educate its users on the detrimental effects of bullying, maltreatment and abuse. The “Respect In” (sport, school and work place) platforms empower the bystander by providing them with the skills necessary to identify and report suspected abuse. 

Kennedy, a modern day crusader, is a leading authority of child advocacy in North America. He influenced the creation of the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and was instrumental in the creation of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre located in Calgary, Alberta. The centre was created to help victims of neglect and sexual abuse. 

The SKCAC, through its unique approach to cross agency collaboration has become an International best-in-class model that continues to have a profound affect on the treatment and subsequent care of early childhood abuse victims

Kennedy’s subsequent testimony to US Congress during the Penn State investigation was ground breaking. 

“The scandal gave Penn State an opportunity to become leaders in prevention and proactive work. I know there have been financial penalties but, to me, it’s not about money, it’s about action and leadership,” said Kennedy. 

“Penn State can, and should be, that catalyst for the rest of the country,” added Kennedy. “Not unlike what Hockey Canada did when my story broke, they decided to make child maltreatment prevention training mandatory for every hockey coach in Canada, now that’s action.”

Sheldon Kennedy finished his career with only 334 NHL games; fifty-six of those were with the Boston Bruins. The former Bruin has blazed the trail of awareness since 1997.

Sheldon Kennedy may not be remembered as an influential Boston Bruin for his time with the organization but his work outside the game of hockey continues to make the game and our society a safer place for everyone.

Kennedy’s relentless pursuit to help victims of abuse and to empower those in leadership roles is truly inspirational.

“Our goal, within Canada has been to change laws, educate the masses and advocate for children and youth.”

“It’s alluring to want to expand to other countries but that is not a priority for us right now. We want to get it right in Canada. If others want to look over the fence and we can assist them with some “best practices” we would always be happy to help,” Kennedy said.

In 2015, he was named a member of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour.

The transition out of the game is difficult for any NHLer, but Kennedy’s retirement took an entirely different complexion.

“Frankly, stepping away from the game really wasn’t my decision. Looking back though, it was a good thing since it forced me to start trying to get my life in order and focus on the future,” he said.

“As a kid, I dreamed of scoring the overtime winner in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, that dream was stolen from me.”

“To put it in perspective, if it wasn’t for hockey and that visibility, I likely wouldn’t have been able to influence that change we have seen over the years,” added Kennedy.

To date the Respect Group Inc. have certified over 900,000 people and they are looking to break the one million mark by the end of 2018.

For more information on the Respect Group Inc. and the Sheldon Kennedy Advocacy Centre find them it here:,


  • Published on May 19, 2017

 Two days ago I started to second-guess the reason why?

Sure teachers always question that from to time to time, especially during the final class of the day. Why today? All topics to zone out on, why would they choose this one? Maybe because they have heard me discuss this before or maybe it hits a little too close to home?

I tried everything to grab their attention, the slide on our schools guidance stats worked the day before, but nothing seemed to be work that day. The current slide I was trying to explain outlined the ways to handle someone who discloses abuse.  

For two years now, I never felt deflated during this unit, never once questioned my direction or passion. However, in that moment I started to second-guess myself. I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs “WAKE UP” PAY ATTENTION this is real.

It’s scary to think what adolescences are talking about these days but I only wanted five minutes of the attention to try to drive home the importance of not only being there for their friends but what to do when someone discloses abuse.  

       I had to stop several times to get their attention between fidget spinners, cell phones and the sudden adolescent mid-afternoon thought the distractions were endless. There I was teaching my guts out and they didn’t seem to care.  

I wanted to prepare them for what they were about to see, for most in the room this would have been their first viewing of Swift Current.  Released in 2016, Joshua Rofe’s masterpiece follows Sheldon Kennedy’s personal journey of hope and healing. 

 I should have discussed that slide on disclosure for the remainder of the class, but I had to get them back. I decided to start the film, as I sat there captivated by the film and emotionally drained from trying to get my earlier point across, I began to realize maybe this is too heavy for them, why am I even trying to teach this?       

I have no idea where that negative energy came from, probably from the disinterested kids or maybe I was just having one of those days.

I will never forget watching the film for the first time last year in the comforts of my basement, which ironically is littered with hockey memorabilia. Global TV in agreement with the films producers agreed on a one time showing of Swift Current on national television. Halfway through my first viewing I was an emotional wreck.

Watching Swift Current for the first time was captivating on so many levels. All I could think of in that first viewing was, the kids have to see this, they just have to, too many of them know someone currently or have dealt with abuse in the past.

 I find it difficult to fully capture and explain Sheldon’s impact. My students probably think by now he’s some type of super hero by the way I describe him. However, they haven’t talked to him or listened to his awe-inspiring message, in an auditorium full of educators wiping the tears from their eyes after reading just a small passage from his book. They didn’t interview him and get to know him on a personal level.

After showcasing the Respect in School program and viewing Swift Current during the last two years we have had several disclosures and students coming forward to discuss their experiences with abuse. So why on this day, a rainy day in May 2017 would I start being so hesitant?

I really think these negative thoughts stemmed from worry and personal concern for the students who may be suffering in silence.

 So many students continue to struggle in silence, that’s why I was so concerned that maybe the subject area and my style of teaching it were overwhelming the kids. My negative thoughts continued to race through my head.

Have I done enough to train them or is this going to push them over the edge? Class ended, and I just sat there upset and personally torn. I just had to talk to someone after school, just to make sure that I was on the right track. It took one of our guidance counsellors to reassure that I was doing the right thing and that our students needed to be aware of this type of abuse.

Nevertheless, as I drove home that night, I thought about all those students that had disclosed last year, all the positive feedback from students and staff and the skills that the Respect in School program had provided. 

I guess my main focus on that drive home was my inspirational beacon. One question repeatedly surfaced, what would Sheldon do?

Sheldon would press on, and keep moving forward, regroup, refocus and dive into the subject area with even more enthusiasm the following day. That’s exactly what I did!

 As teachers we may never know the true impact our words or actions have on the youth in front of us. When tackling tough subject material especially in the case of sexual abuse, we should always consider those students might not be ready to disclose.

From a teaching perspective this may often be perceived as withdrawn or disinterested behaviour. Programs like Respect in School provide those that work closely with children the skills to recognize these behaviours. 

It’s apparent that true inspiration can be taken from any moment of time strong, weak or confused.

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