Kennedy surprised by unveiling of outdoor rink named in his honour
The City of Swift Current unveiled a surprise recognition to Sheldon Kennedy on February 7, naming the outdoor rink at Riverdene Park as The Sheldon Kennedy Rink.
The recognition came at the same time as the inaugural Sheldon Kennedy Youth Outdoor Classic was played as part of the Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada.
“Tears don’t go too far down the cheek at this temperature,” and emotional Kennedy joked after the recognition. “I did things in my life that I thought were right and I thought were important, and I think that it was because I kept hearing stories and stories and stories of people that had went through what I went through. And that’s what kept me going.”
He admitted that having a rink bearing his name in Swift Current means a lot.
“When I first told my story it wasn’t real popular. Nobody really wanted to talk about the issues that Sheldon Kennedy represents. And now I think people are finally realizing that this is important, and we need to take a stand. And its really very impactful on our kids in our communities when we’re not putting this at the forefront. So that’s what really I think has made me emotional with this.”
Kennedy played three seasons with the Swift Current Broncos from 1986 to 1989, winning a Memorial Cup Championship during his final season. He stunned the sports world when he broke the silence and came forward to reveal the sexual abuse he suffered during his time as a junior hockey player at the hands of his former coach, Graham James.
“Yeah Sheldon won a Memorial Cup here in Swift Current. But also…there was a lot of people that really didn’t understand when Sheldon disclosed what was going on. And so it was a dark time and there was a few years that were very dark and Sheldon wasn’t popular in a lot of people’s minds because I think they weren’t clear about what had really gone on and what had really happened, and the impact, and how dare he do this to the game.”
“Yet I think where we’ve evolved to - and I think what the rink is - is that the game has shifted the conversation around significant issues that are very impactful around abuse, bullying and harassment in the game of hockey. And hockey in general across this country has allowed society to shift that conversation to be, hey you know what, we need to take action and you know we can’t be hiding this anymore. Right? It needs to be out in the forefront. And so here we are. Sheldon Kennedy represents the issues of child abuse. And so to me it’s about the importance of understanding that here. And that’s basically what my name is. So if they put my name up, that means that they care about making a difference.”
He put his efforts behind the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (now known as the Calgary and Area Child Advocacy Centre), and developing the Respect Group Inc. which delivers the Respect in Sport program to help adults recognize and prevent abuse, bullying and harassments.
His efforts ultimately led to the development of Safe Places in Swift Current.
“Safe Places is a key message. I think that needs to resemble that kids can feel safe. We’ve done over 9,000 child abuse investigations, and half of those kids are being hurt in their home. So sometimes these places are the safe places, and we need to understand that. They may not feel safe at home, but when they come out to community organizations, that may be the place that they feel the safest. And we need to make sure that we’re in a position to respond if they disclose to us something that might be going on in their life. I think that needs to be our mindset when we’re showing up at these places, that we’re here and our eyes and ears are open and we can’t be bystanders.”
He admitted that the recognition is just another step forward for the community.
“I remember the conversation that we had about sometimes there’s a black cloud that was hanging over the city with my case and other cases. And I think when we looked at that we said while how can we change that into taking a leadership role. And hence came out of that Safe Places.”
“People said, hey you know what, we’re going to make a difference. We’re going to do something that’s going to prevent the Graham James types of incidences from happening again. What we know is our best defence when it comes to child protection around abuse, bullying and harassment is knowledge. And Safe Places gives us knowledge.”
Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault said both the youth outdoor hockey tournament and renaming the rink in Kennedy’s honour were fitting tributes.
“I find it incredibly fitting as part of the festivities we are launching an outdoor hockey tournament bearing the name of a gentleman who is known as much for his courage and bravery as for his heroic exploits on the ice.” Perrault said.
“Your bravery, compassion and courage are a shining example to our entire community, and your legacy in Swift Current will live on for generations to come.”