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Kennedy Talks About the Lessons of Beach Case on Breakaway Podcast

By Aaron Wilbur, 12/03/21, 10:45AM EST

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The important lessons we can all learn


Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy says we need to continue to learn important lessons and do better after former Chicago Blackhawk Kyle Beach recently shared his story about how he had been sexually assaulted by a former video coach with the team more than a decade ago.

Kennedy, who was a victim of sexual assault by his former junior hockey coach in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, has become one of the leading advocates for creating safe places inside and outside sport in Canada. He was a recent guest on the OMHA’s Breakaway podcast co-hosted by the Ian Taylor, Executive Director of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and Aaron Wilbur, Founder of The Coaches Site.

“It’s not just a sport issue, this is a societal issue.  It’s really about a power imbalance,” Kennedy says on the podcast. He added, “If we look at hockey, or sports in general in our country, we are a lot further ahead on the prevention and education front than any other space that I know of in society. But is there more work to be done? Yes, there is.”

Kennedy is the co-founder of The Respect Group, which helps organizations recognize and prevent bad behaviour (BAHD) bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination through interactive online training courses.

Kennedy and the Respect Group have worked with the OMHA since 2015, providing what has become mandatory training by the OMHA for hundreds of thousands of coaches, parents, officials, and players.  

“If you look at the OMHA, they educate all coaches, all parents, officials, I mean, the list goes on. And I think that is huge. That's more than the majority of organizations out there,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy’s Respect Group tries to empower bystanders to recognize and act when they get an inkling that something is wrong.

“It's also about individual accountability. We can't rely on the organization to do everything. It is players, it’s coaches, it’s officials, it’s trainers, it’s parents, it's everybody's job, to keep an eye out, as your boots on the ground, and to do the right thing.”


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Kennedy says that sometimes people worry they need to have the perfect conversation before stepping in. But Kennedy says that is not the case.

Just like teams work regularly on a power play - not just once a year for a couple of hours, to build a safe place and the right culture, teams need to continue to practice having these tough conversations about respect and appropriate behaviour. 

He says if there’s inappropriate banter in a locker room, for example, people need to call it out when somebody crosses the line.

He says a coach could ask another mentor for advice or could access the online education resources at any time to see the best way to respond.

Kennedy says there is one another tool he thinks is crucial to build standards and guidelines which everybody around the team can work on together, perhaps even including the parents.

“One of the recommendations, we've been giving which can be a great team building skill is why don't you build a team charter around these issues at the start of the year. Have it hanging in your locker room,” Kennedy adds, “that allows teams to have a conversation when issues come up about what does respect mean to you.”

Kennedy says the best teams aren’t all about wins and losses.

“Most of the winning teams stick up for one another. They hold each other accountable, right from the President down to the stick person. They’re all on the same page. They aren’t afraid to have tough conversations when somebody crosses the line.”


'RESPECT IN HOCKEY' | LEARN IT. LIVE IT. PASS IT ON.

‘Respect in Hockey’ is a concept that receives considerable attention in both minor hockey and in community sport. The Ontario Minor Hockey Association is committed to the prevention of abuse, bullying and harassment, and the education of our membership.

Parents, Team Officials and Game Officials are required to complete the Respect in Sport program

The Respect in Sport Program is an online certification program designed to protect our youth as well as enhance Ontario Minor Hockey's mandate of providing a safe and fun environment for all of our participants. It is Canada’s leading online bullying, abuse, harassment, and negligence prevention program for parents, coaches, and community leaders. 


That’s why it was so difficult for Kennedy to watch what happened with Beach and to see how the Blackhawks failed to act when the player came forward more than a decade ago.

“I have had an opportunity to chat with Kyle on quite a regular basis, just checking in to see how he's doing. I guess when I saw that interview myself, it was like, looking in the mirror.”

As devastating as the Beach case is, on the podcast, Kennedy says it’s important for people involved in minor hockey associations like the OMHA not to lose perspective.

“Hockey makes the headlines in this country,” Kennedy says. But he adds, “there is no question in my mind that sport in this country, and hockey is a safer place today than it ever has been.”

Kennedy has recently been helping his own three-year-old son learn how to skate. He sometimes has to remind himself to keep it fun for his son – a lesson he hopes other parents will follow.

“These young athletes have to succeed in school and in sport. They’re on their social media, it’s a world full of anxiety. And I think that if we can take the pressure away, and just let kids participate in sport, understand, winning and losing, but just let them figure it out. I think we're going to get a better product, which is better humans. Sports is not a place to add even more pressure on our kids right now.”

Kennedy says the last couple of years with the pandemic has reminded everyone how special it is to be involved in a sport like hockey as a tool for managing anxiety, depression and mental health issues.

“I think that sport has really been a highlight of COVID. For many, I think we realized how important sport and activity really is in our lives, when it wasn't there. And I think it's brought a little bit of perspective back to what is sport and why is sports so important.”


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron is the Founder and CEO of The Coaches Site, the #1 online resource for hockey coaches, and also the host of the Glass & Out podcast. He is married with two boys, believes Major League is the best sports movie of all-time, is scared of heights and is mildly obsessed with the Alabama Crimson Tide football program.

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