Sheldon Kennedy’s book, co-written with James Grainger, felt like an accident of timing, having been in Canada in the year it was published and becoming the second book I would ever read in recovery. In between that gap of a year there was a news report about Kennedy and the catch-up explanation by the webmaster here about Kennedy’s life and career up to then and the general case background.
Why I Didn’t Say Anything (hereafter known as WIDSA) is a tautly written book starting with Kennedy’s early childhood in Manitoba, Canada in the first few pages, before life essentially on the road took over on the climb through the youth leagues of Canadian Hockey and ending with the AHL in Detroit and NHL in Calgary. As everyone knows, that training was overseen by paedophile coach Graham James.
The book describes the grooming followed by the serial abuse of Kennedy and other players by James almost wherever Kennedy played in his early career and the manipulation that followed when the abuse ended. The fact that this section of the book comprises 131 of the book’s 217 hardback pages, this should in no small way underline the effect that the abuse followed by destructive coping mechanisms had on Sheldon Kennedy’s personal life. For me, five months into healing, Kennedy’s insight into his experience and the effects of the abuse perpetrated felt like a bible in its own right.
The case was all in the news report I heard about, but the rest of the book fills in the aftermath. It also gives the background to Kennedy’s nationwide inline skate and the charity drives leading up to it, which raised CAN$1million for his own foundation, eventually donated over to the Canadian Red Cross. The skate seemed to be a high that springboarded into a massive low before hitting rock bottom and getting to sobriety, where the book ends.
WIDSA is also useful in pointing out how senior figures in Canadian Hockey were quick to disbelieve what happened or at least, Catholic Church-style, move James off to another team elsewhere, to the point where James racked up almost 100 other victims and the media became part of the problem by writing about the case too soon and dissuading other victims from disclosing and pressing charges. This led finally to the paltry three year sentence handed down to the offender. This shows how the sport’s managing authorities and the media acted in concert by accident to ruin the chance for many more players to get justice. Canadian Hockey management’s “patch-up-and-ship-out-to-play” therapy services also get some deserved criticism although we’d like to believe this has improved in present-day hockey players’ care.
In recent times when a male abuse survivor has featured on the Oprah Winfrey show giving his story and being treated with a little more respect than Winfrey usually bothers with, the description of Kennedy’s 1997 appearance seems much more like the packaged male abuse shows of old which were a ratings novelty turn. Sadly Martin Kruze was the other guest on the show and the kid-gloves treatment of one of his offenders helped to cause his suicide a few months after the show aired, and there is more detail regarding Martin Kruze in the male Survivor quarterly newsletter from a year ago, which you can download from here as a PDF.
Despite the fact that Kennedy reflected on being unsure whether he was helping anyone, the other useful facet of the book was the de facto nationwide disclosure which happened, and the “note-swapping” effect that took place across Canada at the time even without the book on the market.
So the book is more than just a sports memoir. It’s a short but bittersweet commentary on the effects of abuse on one male survivor, how dreams are destroyed and how life has to be restarted. WIDSA is analytical enough to help others whether or not their abuse occurred in the sports field. If you’re a newly emerging survivor it’s a book I would recommend in the same breath as a clinical bible like Victims No Longer. My very minor gripe is that the pictures are in black and white which is slightly cheap for a star sports book and the presence of some typos but aside from those minor glitches, it’s definitely worth having in your personal library if you’re a survivor, more so than just the TV film even though that won an award in its own right.