Calgary

Sheldon Kennedy steps down from child-advocacy centre named after him

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy has announced that he is taking his name off the advocacy centre he created.

Ex-NHL player says he needs time to attend to his own mental health

Sheldon Kennedy is shown speaking on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 5, 2018. The former NHLer and abuse survivor announced Tuesday that he is removing his name from the child advocacy centre in Calgary he founded. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Sheldon Kennedy is taking his name off the advocacy centre he helped create.

The former NHL player issued a statement Tuesday announcing that he's asked to have his name removed from the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, saying he needs to refocus on his own mental health at the moment.

"I always preach to others that, first and foremost, they need to take care of their own mental health and find balance in their lives. I now need to take my own advice," Kennedy said.

He said that having his name on the building means taking personal responsibility for its day-to-day operation and looking after front-line workers, donors, volunteers and victims.

He added that it has been rewarding work since he first pitched the centre in 2010, but it has taken an emotional toll. His focus now will be on his family and the Respect Group, a company he co-founded aimed at preventing bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

"Today, I am healthy and excited about my next chapter. I will continue the crusade, but with greater balance. I am also comforted to know that the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre and our community are ready to carry the torch," Kennedy said in the statement.

"It has become clear that I will not be able to achieve the critical balance I need in my life without taking my name off the centre. Furthermore, our community will never fully own the issues with my name still on it. The time has come and the future is bright."

The former hockey player said that having his name on the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre means taking personal responsibility for its day-to-day operation and while it's been rewarding work, it's also taken an emotional toll. (Anis Heydari/CBC)

Kennedy declined to comment further.

Kennedy was among the first to speak out about sexual abuse he suffered from coach Graham James.

James was sentenced to 3½ years in prison for abusing Kennedy and another young player.

James later pleaded guilty to repeatedly abusing other players, including retired NHL star Theo Fleury and Fleury's cousin, Todd Holt, when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Debra Mauro, the board co-chair of the centre, said in a statement, "We respect Sheldon Kennedy's decision to hand the Child Advocacy Centre back to the community and we are so grateful to have had his support and the opportunity to work so closely with him for the past five years.

Kennedy, shown here speaking in Mississauga, Ont., in 2014, was among the first to speak out about sexual abuse he suffered from coach Graham James. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

"We are proud of Sheldon and the tireless work he has accomplished. He has been a phenomenal advocate for the Centre and victims of child abuse.

"His dedication," she added, "has helped bring this issue to the forefront and has changed the lives of countless youth and children.

"The centre is focused on continuing our momentum and growth to provide care and services to more children, youth and families who are experiencing abuse. The centre's services will remain uninterrupted and this change does not affect day-to-day operations," she said.

Kennedy said the centre will be renamed the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre, but Mauro said the centre will keep Kennedy's name for now until it announces a new name soon.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press