Wednesday, 10 October 2012

He's Absolutely Right

The image to the left shows former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy shaking hands with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Calgary yesterday after accepting the Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee Medal for his volunteer work as an outspoken advocate for the rights of sexual abuse victims. Kennedy's work has been instrumental in bringing sexual abuse in amateur sport to light, and he absolutely deserves to be honored for the work he is doing in turning the topic of sexual abuse from a shameful issue into one where victims are protected and helped.

"I was chatting with the PM and he said 'Geez, you've got a lot of fans here,'" said Kennedy. "I look at this today, it's about the issue — it's not so much about Sheldon Kennedy, it's about where this issue has come from.

"There was a long time when I would have scared people out of a room because I represented an issue and today we're getting an applause in front of a lot of people and getting an award for where we've brought this issue today."

Sheldon Kennedy was a major reason why Graham James is in jail serving time for his heinous acts as the head coach of Swift Current Broncos. Along with Theoren Fleury, Kennedy's admission of sexual abuse and testimony against James helped to remove a troubled individual from a position of power and authority in amateur sports. To say that was commendable is an understatement.

Kennedy, along with Fleury, have been speaking out about Canada's need to adopt tougher sentences for pedophiles in order to send strong messages about the seriousness of the crime. Kennedy spoke about his wishes after receiving his Diamond Jubilee Medal.

"I think that putting somebody away for life is not the only answer, although it's a feel-good," Kennedy said. "Pedophiles and perpetrators, they prey on the public's ignorance and indifference, so for me it's about education and communication."

The education and communication that sexual abuse should not be ignored or perceived as not happening in sports is something that all parents and coaches need to understand. I'm not saying it happens all the time, but it clearly happens more often than we'd like to believe, and I would hope that Kennedy's message is getting across to the masses.

"We're dealing with a crime where the damage is very invisible. We need to make it a lot more visible than what it is today," Kennedy said. "Although we've come a long ways, I think the damage to the individual and the cost to our society is in the billions of dollars. Once we recognize that, I think that we’re going to see longer sentences."

I believe that there should be extreme sentences for those who prey upon children. Stealing the innocence of a child by exploiting them for one's own sexual needs is downright sickening, and I would be inclined to say that anything less than death would be merciful. Sheldon Kennedy, however, is far more rational than I am.

"We know we’re never going to stop it, but I think where our focus needs to be is being able to turning these young people and their families' lives around right after an event like this happens in their life," he said.

By allowing people like Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury the opportunity to speak to children about their experiences and how no one should be afraid of speaking up if something bad like this is happening will only make us stronger as a society. And while the Diamond Jubilee Medal is a great distinction, it only scratches the surface of the legacy that Sheldon Kennedy is leaving on the game of hockey and the lives of people across the globe.

While there is no prize for being a great human being, I fully agree with Sheldon Kennedy that education and communication is vitally important. Everyone has the ability to talk, but it's the importance of listening that makes communication possible. Sheldon Kennedy's message should be heard loud and clear by everyone.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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