WASHINGTON – A former National Hockey League player who rocked the Canadian sports world with sexual abuse accusations against a former coach is the marque witness at a congressional hearing Tuesday examining such abuse in the wake of the Penn State scandal.
The story of Sheldon Kennedy, whose NHL career began in 1989 with the Detroit Red Wings, was back in the news last week after his former coach in junior hockey pleaded guilty to sexual assaults involving two other former players, including NHL star Theoren Fleury. The coach, Graham James, already served more than three years in prison for abusing other players he coached, including Kennedy. James was quietly pardoned for his crimes in 2007, leading to public outcry.
The junior hockey system Kennedy played in is a prime steppingstone to the NHL. Many players between the ages 16 of 20 live far away from home with local host families, known as billets.
Junior coaches hold strong sway over their lives and futures in the sport. Kennedy has said he didn't tell his teammates about the abuse for fear they would conclude he was gay. He has said he was afraid to tell his mother about the abuse for fear she would pull him off his team.
Kennedy is expected to discuss the effects of abuse and what it's like to be in an organization that didn't do enough to protect teens. Kennedy, who later co-founded an advocacy group, has said previously that when there's a crisis like the one at Penn State, it creates a platform for change, and he's hopeful positive changes can be made as awareness is increased.
The hearing before a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee will examine the nation's child abuse laws. In particular, the panel said it would review the adequacy of current federal and state reporting requirements as well as proposals aimed at preventing abuse and intervening in such cases. Other witnesses are from organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and American Academy of Pediatrics.
Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky faces more than 50 counts related to the sexual abuse of 10 boys over a 12-year period. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday.
Officials say the allegations were not immediately brought to the attention of authorities even though high-level people at the university apparently knew about them. The scandal led to the ouster of Hall of Fame football coach Joe Paterno and longtime college president Graham Spanier. Two other Penn State officials are charged with perjury and failing to report the assaults. They said they are innocent.
Sandusky has acknowledged horsing around and showering with boys, but has denied sexually abusing them.