For most people, going through what he did during his junior hockey career and beyond would lead to a life of difficulties and struggles to simply cope.
Instead, the former Moose Jaw Warriors forward threw himself headlong into making sure his experience could never happen again. And through his tireless advocacy against abuse, harassment and discrimination in sports, Kennedy has become an icon and hero to many, an example of overcoming adversity and doing all you can to help others do the same.
That has come with all sorts of accolades, and few are bigger than the honour revealed Wednesday.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame announced that Kennedy would be a part of their 2020-21 induction class, joining a host of sports luminaries across a wide range of sports.
Alongside Kennedy will be Jackie Barrett (athlete, powerlifting and Special Olympian), Sonja Gaudet (athlete, wheelchair curling), Diane Jones-Konihowski (athlete, athletics), Lorie Kane (athlete, golf), Eric Lamaze and Hickstead (team, equestrian show jumping), Steve Nash (athlete, basketball), Duncan Campbell (builder, wheelchair rugby), Judy Kent (builder, sport administration), Willie O’Ree (builder, ice hockey) and Ross Powless (builder, lacrosse).
“I can’t tell you how thrilled and surprised I was that I received the call that I would be inducted this year,” Kennedy said in his acceptance video at www.sportshall.ca. “I never set out in my life to be part of a Hall of Fame of any sort, especially Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame and receiving such a special award.
“I believe over the last 24 years, with the help of many sports leaders across this country, I know that we’ve changed the way we look at these issues not just in sport but in society and we’re taking steps to make sure that we’re educating our members across this country and building confidence to allow that conversation to happen.”
Kennedy revealed in 1996, shortly after completing his NHL career, that he had been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of his coach in Moose Jaw and Swift Current, dating back when he was 14 years old.
His revelations were as shocking as they were terrifying, which led to him working with Hockey Canada and quickly developing their ‘Speak Out’ program, now known as Respect in Sport. As part of his commitment to child safety, Kennedy took part in an 8,000 kilometre cross-Canada inline skating journey to raise funds and public awareness. He raised over $1.2 million for Canadian Red Cross abuse prevention programs.
But Kennedy wasn’t even close to done.
In 2004, he co-founded Respect Group a company that works with schools, sports organizations and workplaces to prevent abuse. His advocacy has continued since and has seen Kennedy work with the International Olympic Committee in their Safeguarding Athletes program as well as the NHLPA substance abuse program, where he provides confidential to support to those battling the same demons he did in his playing career.
“I accept this honour and gift on behalf of all the people who have been pulling on the rope to help make a difference in this area, and all those who have found themselves in a situation where they didn’t have a voice,” Kennedy said.
“It’s an honour, I’m full of gratitude and I’m full of hope. If I can be an inductee into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, it doesn’t matter where you’re at, there’s hope. Thank you from the bottom of my heart with a lot of gratitude.”
It’s the latest honour for Kennedy, after he won the WHL Governor’s Award earlier this year as well as being named to the Order of Hockey in Canada. Kennedy was also invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2014, inducted to the Order of Manitoba in 2015, was appointed to the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2016 and was named a recipient of the Hockey Canada Order of Merit in 2018.
Interestingly enough, Kennedy won’t be the only athlete with Moose Jaw connections inducted – Jones-Konihowski, a Pan-American Games, Commonwealth Games gold medalist and multiple-time Olympian – is married to Moose Jaw and District Sports Hall of Fame inductee John Konihowski.