Film Review: “Theo Fleury: Playing With Fire” (2011)

Theo Fleury: Playing With Fire is a 2012 documentary that paints an intimate portrait of former NHL player Theoren Fleury. The film, which shares its title with Fleury’s 2009 autobiography Playing With Fire, was screened in Toronto at the Hot Docs film festival, where I watched it on Saturday. Fleury’s story is complex, tragic and inspiring, and the film does a good job of capturing the complex and contradictory aspects of Fleury’s personality.

Fleury achieved NHL stardom with the Calgary Flames in the 1990s, and later played for the Colorado Avalanche, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. Despite standing just 5’6”, Fleury played with a tenacious determination that won him as many admirers as enemies. While few questioned his hockey abilities, Fleury increasingly became known for erratic and aggressive on-ice actions and a host of off-ice incidents. On multiple occasions Fleury stepped away from the game to participate in the NHL’s substance abuse program, which seeks to help players who struggle with drug and alcohol addictions. In addition to his mental health and addiction struggles, Fleury revealed in 2009 that as a teenager he had been sexually assaulted by Graham James, a former coach in the Western Hockey League who was imprisoned in 1997 for sexually assaulting Sheldon Kennedy.

The film is essentially a North American road trip with Fleury, who provides the filmmakers with tours of key locations in his life: his hometown of Russell, Manitoba; Winnipeg, where he moved to play junior hockey and where he was first assaulted by James; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he also played junior hockey under James; Calgary, New York and Chicago, three of the four cities in which he played NHL hockey; and Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lived during some of his worst struggles with mental illness and addiction. Fleury gave the filmmakers intimate access to his life, with the notable exception of his children, whom Fleury did not want included in the film. Some of the film’s strongest moments are when it captures Fleury philosophizing or moralizing based upon his recollections of his life and his ongoing experiences. Read more of this post

Weekly Links: Reaction to Duncan Keith’s Elbow on Daniel Sedin; Montreal Stars Win the CWHL’s Clarkson Cup

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • The Montreal Stars of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League are this year’s Clarkson Cup champions, defeating Brampton HC 4-2. But you probably already knew that from watching it live on TV or reading about it on the front page on newspapers across Canada or… oh, right. Maybe not. At least TSN2 is showing the game on tape delay. [TSN]
  • In the aftermath of Duncan Keith’s elbow to Daniel Sedin’s head, which left the Canucks winger concussed and earned the Blackhawk a five-game suspension, Cam Charron writes about the xenophobic attitudes that are still directed toward European players in popular and media discourses. [Canucks Army]
  • Kerry Fraser’s reaction to the Keith hit: “In too many situations witnessed this season, the officials have either missed the mark altogether or came up short by at least three minutes plus a game misconduct.  The judgment of the referees needs to be collectively and immediately retooled by NHL V.P. of Officiating, Terry Gregson, to conform to a higher standard that is currently being maintained by the Player Safety Committee.” [TSN]
  • Graham James was sentenced this week to two years in prison for sexually abusing players on his team, including Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy, in the 1980s and ’90s. Many, including Todd Holt, one of James’ other victims, are calling the sentence extremely inadequate. [CBC]
  • Ellen Etchingham reflects on the function and performance of hustle in hockey. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Quebec City continues its push to regain an NHL franchise, with the city announcing that an 18,000 seat arena will be built by the Fall of 2015. [Puck Daddy]
  • Very interesting article by Benjamin Wendorf on the changes in hockey helmet usage over the decades. [SB Nation]
  • A hockey parent’s perspective on change in hockey and hockey culture. [Down From the Peak]

General Sport Links

  • A story about a gay Queen’s University volleyball star who quit the team because of homophobia, but rejoined it after the team learned of his sexual orientation and completely altered its culture. [The Journal]
  • The NFL demonstrates its determination to improve player safety by suspending New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season, as well as suspending other coaches, fining the team, and stripping away draft picks. This is in response to the recent revelations that the team’s defense operated on a bounty system that rewarded players for deliberately injuring opponents. [Shutdown Corner]

Weekly Links: Stephen Harper’s hockey book nears completion; Trade deadline reaction; The tragedy of sexual abuse in hockey

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • If you haven’t done so, please check out the great posts by Matt Ventresca and E.M. Nolan this week.
  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been working on a hockey history book for some time. It is nearing completion and is expected to have a publisher confirmed next week. [The Star]
  • Speaking of world leaders and hockey: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin states that the Kontinental Hockey League will soon “become real, good, healthy competition for the NHL.” [Ria Novosti, via Puck Daddy]
  • And speaking of the KHL, HBO has criticized the Russian league as negligent in light of the 2011 plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. [Puck Daddy]
  • Lot’s of interesting trade deadline reactions this week. Ellen Etchingham, like Matt, is  not a fan of the NHL trade deadline. This post is a great read. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Matt linked to this article in his post on the trade deadline, but if you missed it James Mirtle and Paul Wildie have excellent comments from NHLers David Steckel and Jason Arnott about the personal experience and impact of being traded. [Globe and Mail]
  • An anonymous player’s perspective on the deadline. [Puck Daddy]
  • Graham James was in court this week to face the charges of sexual abuse against him. Adam Proteau calls for the hockey community to honour the brave advocacy of victims like Theoren Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy by working to prevent future abuse from taking place. [The Hockey News]
  • Ken Dryden has a harrowing article about the consequences of doing nothing in light of sexual abuse in hockey, including some upsetting outcomes from the Maple Leaf Gardens sex scandal. [Globe and Mail]
  • A very insightful and critical look at the hockey programming run by sport-based humanitarian organization Right to Play in Northern Ontario Aboriginal communities. [Sport for Development]
  • An awkward moment in NHL social media history: a post on the Calgary Flames official Twitter feed, presumably intended to be sent from a personal account, insults the Edmonton Oilers’ re-signing of Ales Hemsky. The Flames organization quickly pulled the offending tweet, but was left with some egg on its face. [Puck Daddy; Backhand Shelf]

General Sport Links

  • This is a fantastic story. Joseph Williams, an NCAA football player for Virginia University, is taking part in a hunger strike in support of a Living Wage campaign by university employees. It is a rare moment of political consciousness and activism by an elite athlete. [Dr. Saturday]
  • NASCAR is arguably the most blatantly political (and partisan) of professional North American sports. One car at this weekend’s Daytona race will feature advertizing in support of Rick Santorum, who is running to be the Presidential candidate for the Republican Party. Mitt Romney, his major rival, will be at the race. [CBS News]