It’s been a confusing, complex relationship between Sheldon Kennedy and the city he lived in when he was sexually abused by Graham James – but the former NHLer now feels like a weight has been lifted off him when he comes to Swift Current.
“For the first time I don’t feel ashamed to be here,” he admitted.
“It wasn’t because of the town of Swift Current, I just felt that sense of shame before and now I don’t,” Kennedy continued. “Folks here in the community thought I was mad at them and I thought people were mad at me. I mean I can’t explain the difference that I feel today compared to the last 20 years of being in this town.”
His documentary was screened to a few hundred people Friday night.
Larry Johnson was in the audience, and he’s no stranger to minor hockey, having been involved in it in the city for 40 years.
“That audience, I think they all took a step forward,” he said.
Kennedy agreed, believing the film, which details his victimization, along with a new Safe Places Youth Certified initiative, are the catalysts to help his relationship with the city move ahead. In fact, he thinks the magnitude and impact those two items will have on the community are comparable to winning the Memorial Cup for the city in 1989.
Swift Current celebrated hockey in the community Saturday through Rogers Hometown Hockey. Streets were closed as stages were set up for musicians and tents were erected for a variety of other entertainment, all while several food trucks served people on a chilly afternoon. The same will happen Sunday and the Broncos will make a special presentation to Kennedy before their afternoon game against Moose Jaw.
For residents of the city like Larry Johnson, the cloud of guilt and shame over Swift Current had never really been that large, even in the face of atrocities committed by James, a convicted pedophile.
For others like Larry Jensen, also having been involved in minor hockey, it was more apparent. He insisted those feelings are slowly going away, if they haven’t completely disappeared already.
“Over the years it’s dissipated. Periodically it’ll get revived simply because Graham James has been in the news over the last number of years so it brings back those memories,” explained Jensen.
“There’s been a concerted effort to put the past behind us. We can’t fool ourselves. People will always remember the past to a certain extent but I think dwelling on it will have moved on and that healing is occurring and will continue to occur.”
Kennedy is ready to move forward with Swift Current. He’s already done that thanks to the documentary, and he credits it all from simply having the tough discussion in the first place.
“There’s a sense of relief on all fronts, I think, from both parties because there’s been a conversation. We’ve put together the film to carry a message and the message was well received.”