As a professional Media Planner, I get lots of wonderful invitations to be present at events like the one that I attended November 20. Some of them are pure entertainment, some educational and others life changing. This was the latter.
Beyond Borders is an organization which speaks out against child sexual exploitation and it was their 10th anniversary Media Awards. The room was full of hometown media and sport celebrities. Winnipegger Rod Black was the MC and I was so impressed by his passion for the cause, his wit and eloquence. Another person with local roots, Diana Swain, won an award for her investigative reporting for The Fifth Estate on the unspoken abuse within Scouts Canada. Also on the front line of this topic was Global personality Eva Kovacs whose husband is Jeff Mager of Truth North, the owners of the Winnipeg Jets. It was Jeff who first introduced Eva to the Keynote Speaker for the event, Sheldon Kennedy.
Sheldon too is Manitoba-bred, having been born in Brandon, Manitoba where I lived for a brief time and where many, many great hockey players are from. I am aware of the Sheldon Kennedy story in the same detail as most of you -- that is, I saw the newscasts that revealed his circumstances. I did not know that I would be so moved to hear the details freshly told. Sheldon is a big, tough guy and as he joked this afternoon: "I was more used to getting arrested than getting awards." As he was introduced, it was said that Sheldon was living proof that "beyond pain, there is hope."
He arrived at the podium in tears and shed them again as he thanked Roz Prober who the Media Award is named for. After his many thanks, his message was brief but I intend to learn more as I now have a copy of his book entitled: Why I Didn't Say Anything.
From the book's back cover:
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 300 times.
He said simply, that the answer to this question used as the book's title, is primarily about shame. What a world we live in when lives can be shattered by the sexual aggression of perpetrators feeding upon the most vulnerable of society-youth and children. How can this pain be stopped? How can this brokenness be fixed? Sheldon said today "Just show up. That's how change happens." What Sheldon Kennedy did, when he revealed his abuser, demonstrated the stuff of real men, with strength and courage beyond comprehension.
Rod Black closed with this comment, making reference to the most common response when persons are asked the question, "who is the most famous hockey player you know?" The answer is usually "Wayne Gretzky." "But Decades from now, the most important hockey player in the history of the game, will be Sheldon Kennedy."
Kath's quote: "One does not need to wear shackles to be a slave." -Carolyn Mullin (another award recipient at the event).