COLUMN: Not everyone gets a sporting chance

Tale of abuse detailed by former NHLer Patrick O'Sullivan causes reporter Nick Greenizan to look back at his own days playing youth sports.

I remember, as a teenager, a family trip to the Okanagan for my younger brother’s hockey tournament.

We’d just arrived at the hotel, and a number of other players and their families were milling about in the lobby, awaiting check-in.

There was one boy who had received a ride up with another family; it’s how he got to most games.

Sitting next to him on the lobby floor was his hockey bag and a couple sticks. No suitcase.

When queried as to where the rest of his belongings were, he said he didn’t have any. He’d just crammed a few t-shirts and a toothbrush in with his gear. This is how he planned to get through the next three days.

I don’t think he even had a jacket.

“Didn’t your parents help you get ready?” someone asked.

He just shrugged.

A few years later, near the end of one of my last years of minor hockey, I remember a distraught teammate of mine – angry, embarrassed, in tears – refusing to leave the dressing room. His mother had shown up to the game drunk and had fallen down the arena stairs in plain view of all the other parents.

I thought of both those kids last week, after reading a story online by former National Hockey Leaguer Patrick O’Sullivan, who wrote – in painful, excruciating detail – of the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, a failed professional hockey player for whom nothing was ever good enough.

“My father used to beat the s— out of me,” O’Sullivan’s piece begins. It only gets worse from there.

Now, I’m not suggesting the two examples from my childhood were anything close to O’Sullivan’s experience. I know – or think I do, anyway – that they were not.

But it did get me thinking about all the teammates I had growing up – on hockey teams, in Little League and during my one inglorious year of high-school basketball – and wondering whether things were as good for them as they always were for me.

I like to think others’ parents were as supportive as mine. But you don’t always see what happens when your friend leaves the friendly confines of the dressing room – or the classroom, or the stage, or the food court at the mall – and gets into the family car. You don’t know what happens when that car pulls away, out of view. Or what happens once it arrives home.

Now, this isn’t to suggest there is a rash of abusive sports parents out there in our arenas and on our soccer fields, living their failed dreams of athletic glory vicariously through their children.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

In all my years playing sports as a kid – and a dozen more covering them as a reporter – I have met so many amazing families, coaches, managers, officials, volunteers and players that it’s impossible to keep track of them all. It really is.

The tired cliché of the out-of-control hockey parent may still get trotted out by some, but in reality, such people are the rare exception, not the rule.

But, as O’Sullivan’s harrowing account illustrates, even one is too many.

Kids – be they athletes, students, budding musicians or actors, or future Nobel Prize-winning scientists – deserve, at the very least, to enjoy what they’re doing without feeling what is, at best, pressure, and at worst, fear.

It’s important, too, not to turn a blind eye. It doesn’t take much effort to utter a few words of encouragement to a young athlete – a “good game” can go an awfully long way for someone not used to hearing it – or to offer them a ride without them having to ask, or to simply double-check to make sure they remembered to pack a warm coat.

Sometimes, helping can be as simple as asking, “Is everything OK?”

Most of the time, everything is fine. But it’s still worth asking, because sometimes everything isn’t.

Nick Greenizan is the sports reporter at the Peace Arch News.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews work to clear the aftermath of a three-vehicle collision that occurred Wednesday morning (Jan. 20, 2021) at the intersection of 16 Avenue and 156 Street. (Tracy Holmes photo)
Three-vehicle collision in South Surrey

Extensive front-end damage caused in morning crash

New United States Vice President Kamala Harris (left) and President Joe Biden (right) are sworn in at U.S. inauguration ceremonies Wednesday morning in Washington, D.C.. (Saul Loeb/Pool photos via AP)
Surrey Board of Trade highlights innovation, policy changes as new U.S. president sworn in

COVID-19, border re-opening among issues affecting city, SBOT says

An example of a Surrey Police cruiser, showcased at Mayor Doug McCallum’s State of the City Address at Civic Hotel in May of 2019. (File photo: Amy Reid)
OUR VIEW: Surrey Police Service continues to draw from RCMP well

Again, it flies in the face of mayor’s election campaign pitch that Surrey needs a police force whose ranks live in this city

The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building for 1485 Fir St. (Contributed rendering)
Majority voice support for 80-unit rental redevelopment in White Rock

Resident fearful of being priced out of the city, council told at public hearing

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

The Elk Valley Hospital is adapting to meet the needs of patients in the Elk Valley.
One in five tests in Fernie area coming back positive: doctor

Dr Ron Clark of Elk Valley Hospital said one in five tests was returning positive for COVID-19

Ralliers gather in front of the Cityviews Village apartment building in Maple Ridge to protest attempts to evict low-income tenants by the building owner. (Ronan O’Doherty - The News)
Tenants protest pressure tactics by new landlord at Maple Ridge apartment building

Protest held in front of Cityviews Village on 223 St. Tuesday to rally against low-income evictions

Throughout December, RCMP conducted CounterAttack road checks as police worked to keep roads free of impaired drivers. (BLACK PRESS file photo)
From the “You can’t make this stuff up” file – stories from the BC CounterAttack campaign

Amusing, yes, but a reminder impaired driving affects ability to drive and to make good decisions

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Snow is forecasted to appear in parts of Metro Vancouver this weekend. (Black Press Media files)
Snow forecasted for parts of Lower Mainland this weekend

Environment Canada is predicting flurries and snow from Saturday to Monday evening

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

A Langley woman said she was shaken by the angry encounter. (Google Maps)
Woman shaken after belligerent encounter with unmasked man in Langley store

A man angry about vaccines berated a fellow shopper, a witness said

Inspection of bridge crossing on a B.C. forest service road. (B.C. Forest Practices Board)
B.C. falling behind in maintenance of forest service roads

Auditor finds nearly half of bridges overdue for repair

Most Read