File photo by ADVOCATE staff Sheldon Kennedy, left, meets with Naomi Decembrini, Rob MacKenzie, his mother Joan MacKenzie, and Peter Underwood. Kennedy was in Red Deer to speak about the need for a child advocacy centre.

Sheldon Kennedy removing name from child advocacy centre he founded

CALGARY — Former NHL player and abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy is removing his name from a child advocacy centre he founded.

Kennedy pitched the idea to Calgary’s police chief in 2010 and the facility opened in the city two years later. In 2013, it was renamed the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.

“I now understand that my name on the building really meant a personal responsibility for the day-to-day practice, the wellness of our front-line workers, the satisfaction of our donors and volunteers and the proper treatment of the victims we serve,” Kennedy said in a statement Tuesday.

“This has been a very rewarding eight years of my life and, at the same time, it has taken its toll.”

Kennedy said he’s had emotional conversations with his family and close friends over the last several months.

“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.”

He said he also wants to give his family his full attention.

He said he’ll focus on the Respect Group, a company he co-founded that works with sports organizations, schools and workplaces to prevent 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.

“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.”

Kennedy declined to comment further.

The Calgary Police Service said on Twitter that Kennedy would continue to be a strong community partner.

“We are grateful to Sheldon Kennedy for his tireless work to raise awareness and end the cycle of abuse,” the police tweeted.

Debra Mauro, who co-chairs the advocacy centre’s board, thanked Kennedy in a statement.

“His dedication 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,” she said.

“The centre’s services will remain uninterrupted and this change does not affect day-to-day operations. We will continue to operate as the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre and will announce the centre’s new name in the near future.”

Kennedy was among the first to speak out about how he was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach Graham James. James was sentenced to 3 1/2 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. The disgraced coach was sentenced to two years, a punishment that was increased to five years on appeal.

Greg Gilhooly, who wrote of being abused by James in his book “I Am Nobody,” praised Kennedy on Twitter. Charges against James stemming from Gilhooly’s case were stayed.

“Sheldon Kennedy was strong when I couldn’t be. He fought our battles first, on his own,” Gilhooly wrote.

“It was never as easy as he made it look to others with his strength and grace. He has done enough. We have taken enough of him from him. Godspeed, my friend.”

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