Sheldon Kennedy discusses coach-player sexual assault

Nov 08, 2011

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy will chat about sports and child sex abuse at noon Eastern on Tuesday, Nov. 8 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky / Penn State child-abuse scandal. Kennedy came forward more than a decade ago to say he had been molested by a prominent youth coach during his rise through the junior hockey ranks. He is now a spokesperson for violence- and abuse-prevention programs and raises awareness and funds for sexual-abuse victims.

Read more:

- Penn State officials surrender in Sandusky sex-abuse case

- Robinson: In Penn State's scandal, where was the leadership?

- Feinstein: Penn State scandal threatens legacy

- Former Penn State LB Arrington: This player was shocked

- Penn State ex-coach Sandusky accused of child sex

Hi, this is Sheldon.  Glad to be apart of the discussion.

What was your first reaction when you heard about the Sandusky scandal?

My reaction was not of shock.  As we know this stuff happens way more than what people want to believe at all levels.  My first concern is with this individuals that came forward.

People don't seem to understand that someone who did so much for kids would molest them. From what I've learned, people who do this seek out opportunities to be with kids and groom the kids and their parents by building trust, seeming like a great person. They seek out those youth group, sports coach, and scout leader positions, and are often lauded for their work. That's why folks who run organizations need to be especially vigilant about enthusiastic volunteers who seek to spend an inordinate amount of time with other people's children.

Do you have kids now? What can parents do to protect their kids from sexual predators?

I am a parent and what I believe is the best thing to to is to educate ourselves on all issues.  Sex abuse, bulling harrasment, neglect....  so we are aware of the signs and are better prepared to ask questions to the organizations to make sure they have prevention protocal inplace.  First and formost, have the conversation with our children.  Bring it out on the table for discussion.   It shouldnt be the elephant in the closet.

[From a Post staffer]

If you could tell people one thing they probably don't know to help prevent child sex abuse -- in or out of athletic situations -- what would it be?

It would be to educate ourselves.  Demand our youth orgs have prevention programs in place.  Deputize the 98% of good people with the tools and convidence to ask the tough questions  that so often get pushed to the side.   We in Canada, because of our case, train over 200,000  youth leaders on abuse bulling harrasment education.  It is mandatory.  Either the organization has these values or they don't.  My kids will not be signed up with any organization that does not have these pieces in place.

Some people have criticized the coaching assistant because: (A) he did not immediately attack Coach Sandusky, the rapist, (B) he did not immediately inform the police, (C) he didn't object when Athletic Director Curley took no action against Coach Sandusky. Personally, I think it's understandable that he would retreat in confusion when confronted by a rapist who is a powerful authority figure in his life, and has been for years. But I don't think I can forgive that he never took any action when he realized that Coach Sandusky was going to suffer no consequences for his actions.

How often does this happen in sports? What's done to prevent it? Any other notable cases?

I believe this is not just a sports issue.  It happens a lot everywhere.  After 14 yrs of learning how best to educate, we found we needed to make prevention education mandatory for every youth leader.  98% of people involved with our youth are good people and want to do the right thing.  We need to empower all bystanders with the knowledge and tools to deal effectively.  So you know: USA Triathalon and USA Cycling USA rowing all have mandatory eduction in these areas.   They use our program.  Check it out:

Why do you think people didn't properly report the abuse they saw or try to stop it? From the janitor to the graduate assistant, each saw something clearly wrong, yet all they did was report to a supervisor, not to the police. And they didn't try to stop what they saw was happening.

Because of the power imbalance.  People are scared of their authorities and also the issue.  That is why we need to educate ourselves on these sensitive issues

In his book, he discussed how he was exploited and its long term impact.

How would you compare this coverup with that of the Catholic church?

I do not see any difference?

Elie Wiesel quote sums up the Penn State situation: "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."  Why did those who witnessed the attacks not stop them? Let this remind us all when we see suffering to step in and do the right thing. It is easier than living with the same of doing nothing.

A big thanks to Sheldon for taking some time out of his busy schedule to answer a couple of questions on this important topic today.

Sheldon - Thanks for taking the time to share with us your experience. What do you think of Penn State's Response to the allegations in regards to Sandusky over the last 10 years including the graduate assistant's failure to immediately call the police when he saw the sexual act and instead went to Paterno the next day?

I know in canada we have a legal obligation to report and knowledge of abuse to authorities.  I think it was wrong

In This Chat
Sheldon Kennedy
In 1996, Sheldon Kennedy rocked the insular world of Canadian hockey by announcing that his former minor league coach, Graham James-the Hockey News 1989 Man of the Year-had sexually abused him more than three hundred times. The media portrayed Kennedy as a hero for breaking the code of silence in professional hockey and bringing James to justice. The heroic myth intensified in 1998 when Kennedy announced that he was going to in-line skate from Newfoundland to British Columbia to raise awareness of sexual abuse. The skate raised over one million dollars for Canadian Red Cross sexual abuse programs. Kennedy then settled in Calgary with his wife and young daughter.
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