First he became a household name as one of the country’s most talented hockey players, then he pivoted into a new role as an advocate against sexual abuse, maltreatment and bullying. Now Sheldon Kennedy is being recognized with the Order of Sport Award and inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, in recognition of over two decades’ worth of advocacy work.
“This induction tells Canada and the world that child protection and keeping sport safe and welcoming for all those who participate is a priority. Together, through passionate leadership and understanding, we have made sport a better place and, after 23 years, we continue to move that bar,” Kennedy said in a press release.
“I immediately wanted to accept this honour on behalf of all who have helped, and continue to help, make a difference in the areas so important to me personally and society as a whole. Be it progressive sport leaders or our incredible team at Respect Group, I have not done this alone.”
Sport for Life CEO Richard Way was thrilled to hear the news, having worked alongside Kennedy on a number of initiatives since watching him rollerblade across the country to raise awareness about abuse in 1997. He was there when Kennedy dipped his rollerblade in the Pacific Ocean, and the moment had a profound impact on him. The retired hockey player had previously come out as the victim of abuse at the hands of his coach.
“I love hockey and the NHL, and I played AAA hockey. I remember thinking that for a hockey player to be abused in such a way was abhorrent. It was awful. This is hockey, this is our institution that we all cherish. Then my other thought was how brave he was to come out and say what happened, and to provide a voice for other people being abused. He wasn’t only a voice, though. He also took action and became a catalyst for change,” said Way.
Way ultimately invited Kennedy to speak at the first ever International Physical Literacy Conference (IPLC) in 2013, and saw firsthand the power of his testimony. Sport for Life and Respect Group had collaborated on a number of initiatives by this point with the latter organization’s co-founder Wayne McNeil, but creating culture change was a slow process. At first many sport organizations were apathetic and non-responsive about implementing new protocols and taking the necessary steps to create Safe Sport, and it took persistence to slowly create culture change.
“We wanted to support Sheldon’s vision of creating a better sport system, but it wasn’t easy. Nobody should underestimate how much work Sheldon and Wayne have put in, knocking on doors and putting their message out there. It may seem like they’re an overnight sensation, but it took years for them to get to where they are today,” said Way.
“He’s an amazing, understated individual with a deep-rooted sense of values. I admire his strength.”
Since incorporating in 2004, Respect Group has grown into a team of over 30 individuals dedicated to a global culture of respect. They are now Canada’s leading online provider of prevention education related to bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination (BAHD). They have certified over 1.3 million Canadians involved in sport, schools and the workplace.