Dryden circa 1970

The ugly side of hockey has reared its head in recent years with sexual abuse issues being raised by some prominent figures in the game. Theo Fleury has obviously been at the forefront of bringing these issues to light given his stature in the game he earned during his career.

Fleury made waves earlier this week with his victim impact statement in Winnipeg at the Graham James sentencing hearing. The impact to which these events have clearly affected Fleury become pretty clear in his testimony and underscore the dire need to prevent any and all types of abuse from happening in hockey.

Here is an excerpt from Fleury’s testimony.

I was just a kid. A child. I was completely under Graham James’s control. And I was scared. I did not have the emotional skills, the knowledge, or the ability to stop the rapes or change my circumstances. I felt lost, alone, and helpless. And those feelings did not stop after I was able to get away from Mr. James; I continued to feel that way for 20+ years afterwards. I descended into years of drug addiction, alcoholism, and addictions to sex, gambling, rage. My loved ones, including my beloved children, spiralled down with me. The pain was all-encompassing. And no matter how many NHL games I won, or money I made, or fame I gained could dull the pain of having been sexually abused by Graham James. His sickness changed my life, changed the lives of everyone who was close to me, and caused more pain than can be measured.

Finally, after a night in the New Mexico desert with a gun in my mouth and finger on the trigger, I found the courage to get help and start a long process of healing. I am now reconciled with my children and family. I have been sober for 6 years and I have put the course of my professional life on an amazing path. I am fortunate to speak to victims, survivors, victors and advocates all over North America. From little boys to men as old as 82 tell me they too have been victimized. I am honoured each and every time they share with me. They shed tears, they tell me secrets they have never dared to tell anyone else, and they look for some sort of peace in the midst of their hell.

Dryden, a hall of fame goaltender, former NHL executive and recent member of Canadian parliament chose to address the issue of abuse in hockey in a very honest and up front personal essay which was published in Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Dryden addresses his own encounters with abuse in the game and likens the issue at-large to, among other things, the September 11 attacks on the United States. Dryden’s thesis is essentially that it may seem impossible for these horrendous acts to occur, but decisive steps must be taken given that these acts can only happen while that sense of impossibility exists.

My introduction to child abuse and hockey came almost 15 years ago when I became president of the Toronto Maple Leafs in June, 1997. Four months earlier, Martin Kruze had announced publicly that, as a child, he had been sexually abused by employees of Maple Leaf Gardens. Other victims came forward to tell similar life-shattering stories.

The matter quickly went into the hands of lawyers on both sides, but it also just hung in the air. There was more to say and do, I knew – but what?

In August, I got a letter from Mr. Kruze. He said he wanted to do something for child-abuse survivors, and not just for those from the Gardens, and was asking for our help. I put the letter into a small “get to” pile on my desk. Then the Leafs’ training camp opened, then the season began – and then I got a call.

It was from a policeman. Martin Kruze had jumped off a bridge and died.

Why do we get it so wrong?

When I heard what had happened, I had no idea what to say or do.

I knew only that I needed to go to the funeral and called the family to ask permission. I walked the few blocks from Maple Leaf Gardens to the church. The Kruzes and their friends had to hate the Leafs, and hate me. But in every word spoken at that service and on every face was a deeper message: Please God, the Leafs, somebody – help make something at least a little bit good out of something so bad. Martin lived for a reason.

It is what any family would feel. But it was only after the funeral that we began to do things we should have done earlier.

Dryden also recalls a personal encounter with a victim of abuse in his essay.

A final story. We had met before. Then, some weeks later, we saw each other again at a Leafs press conference, nodded and smiled. This was a year or two after Martin Kruze’s death.

When the event ended, he came over. “I used to love you,” he said. “Then I hated you.”

He was about 40, tall, with thinning hair and a mustache.

“I dreamed I was you,” he told me. “I loved hockey. I was tall. I was a goalie in every game I played. My parents bought me some brand-new equipment. I was you,” he repeated. His 10-year-old self came back in his voice and eyes.

“I used to hang around outside the Gardens. I just wanted to see the players, any of them, live. An older guy who worked there somehow knew I really liked you – maybe I told him. He said he knew you. He said he could introduce me – when you were in town.”

His voice and eyes began to change. “That’s how it began. Then I hated you,” he said, his hatred worn by time now gone from his voice.

“One morning, I went downstairs, picked up that new equipment and threw it into a garbage pail. I told my parents it’d been stolen. I never played again.”

I was the bait.

Dryden’s essay perfectly conveys how necessary it is for the hockey world to come together against this abuse which is being enabled by the game, and the more hockey figures come out to rebut these acts, the closer to a solution we’ll get. I highly recommend that you all give the full piece a read at the above link.

We’ve all seen the Jerry Sandusky scandal wreak havoc at Penn State, and the burden is now on the entire hockey community to ensure that things are put to an end. There are too many lives at stake for there to be any reluctance in approaching this issue seriously.