In the hockey world, Theo Fleury is known as one of the top scorers during the 1990s. A point-per-game player during 15 NHL seasons, the 5-6 right wing captured a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 and an Olympic Gold Medal representing Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics.
That would be an impressive legacy for any player, let alone one who was not expected to reach hockey’s highest league.
But if you ask Fleury, the path he has embarked on in the last few years is more important than any goal he scored or game he won throughout his career. At 44 years old, Fleury has spearheaded a movement to tackle one of Canada’s greatest epidemics: the sexual abuse of minors.
“The numbers are staggering,” Fleury said in an interview with The Fischler Report. “One in three girls and one in five boys are sexually molested before the age of 18 in Canada.”
Fleury’s latest project is the Victor Walk, which will take place between May 14th and May 23rd, with the final destination being the steps of Parliament in Ottawa. The purpose of the Victor Walk is to demand that Parliament takes a harsher stance when it comes to dealing with pedophiles.
“At 12 Noon Eastern on May 23rd, all of us will read our victim impact statements in unison. We want the last two lines of each person’s victim impact statement to be, ‘My name is (fill in name), I am a victor over child sexual abuse, and I demand a change in the laws today.”
Fleury’s involvement in advocating for victims of sexual abuse stems from his autobiography, Playing With Fire, which was published in 2009. In the book, Fleury reveals details about the days when he was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach, Graham James, as well as his need for visits to a drug and alcohol treatment center.
“I certainly didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I wrote the book,” Fleury explained. “Initially, I just wanted to get some stuff off of my chest and let people know why I suddenly disappeared from the NHL.”
After battling drug and alcohol issues during the later seasons of his career, the Oxbow, Saskatchewan native was suspended by the NHL in April of 2003. Fleury wouldn’t play another regular season NHL game.
Once Fleury revealed that he had been abused, many people urged him to file charges against James. However, as Fleury went through the process, he realized that the system coddled his abuser.
“When I filed a complaint against Graham James in December of 2009,” Fleury said, “I was asked to write a victim impact statement. Before I read my statement in 2012, I found out that the defense was allowed to edit it, and I thought that was completely ridiculous and unfair.
“Half an hour before my victim impact statement was going to be read in court, I called a press conference and read my statement word for word. Six hundred media outlets picked up the press conference, and within two hours, our inbox was filled with thousands of e-mails from people who also wanted to read out their victim impact statements.”
With events such as the Victor Walk, Fleury’s efforts are bringing more attention to the issue. As with any cause, raising awareness is essential, and Fleury believes there are many ways to do so.
“Although we’re doing a long extended walk, we encourage people to set up their own Victor Walk in their town or city. Also, it’s important to go to the town hall or city hall and demand a change in the laws as well.”
For Fleury, the ability to get rid of the shame involved and tell someone about what happened is the most important step that needs to take place.
“The reveal to a trusted friend — whether it’s a therapist or a family member — when the person feels safe enough to be able to say you’re sorry is huge. I believe the biggest thing that holds people back is the aspect of shame.
“At the end of the day, that’s not ours to embrace and ours to take on. The shame doesn’t belong to us because what happened was done to us by somebody in a position of power. That reveal gets rid of that shame and moves you from survivor to victor.”
To say that Fleury has turned his life around since retirement from hockey would be an understatement. The player who scratched, clawed, and fought to be successful in the NHL is doing the same thing to battle one of the biggest epidemics in the nation.
After battling a number of demons in his personal life — as he documented in his autobiography — Fleury has turned himself from a victim to a victor.
One generation of kids idolize him because of how he played on the ice. Another generation will be eternally grateful for the efforts he put forth in protecting their future.
Now that’s an impressive legacy.