Open Letter to Theoren Fleury

Dear Theoren Fleury,

You might not know me, but I have watched you play since I was a child. Even though I was a Vancouver Canucks fan growing up, I was amazed by your competitiveness and skill despite your smaller physical stature. I was too young to truly understand why the Calgary Flames traded you in 1999 but I cheered for your comeback attempt in 2009 at the age of 41. I thought you deserved to make the team, and it was not only the crowd inside the Saddledome cheering you on, but hockey fans around the world.

Shortly after your comeback attempt, your autobiography Playing with Fire became a top-selling book, and I studied some excerpts from your book in my sociology of sport classes. Indeed, ten years ago, Hockey in Society’s then-editor Mark Norman provided a positive review of your autobiographical film: “I felt that Playing With Fire was an excellent film that has much to contribute to our understanding of mental illness and addiction in sport, as well as to issues of sexual abuse and cultures of silence in Canadian hockey.”

I have wondered why your name is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, given that you have over 1000 points and bravely shared publicly the abuse you have faced. But you do have numerous other accolades, including honorary chief of Siksika Nation and honorary doctorates from Brandon University and University of Guelph-Humber.

While I do believe that you have made outstanding contributions and that you deserve to be recognized, equating these honorary doctorates to Doctor of Medicine degrees is wrong. It is further unfortunate that you have ramped up very divisive rhetoric that is loaded with misinformation. I can’t help but wonder if the culmination of negative experiences in your life led you to be drawn into populist movements that distrust those in power. I’m not sure if you actually want to be associated with people who want to uphold hypermasculine norms rather than fighting to change this very culture that leads to toxic environments in places such as hockey arenas.

I noticed that your Twitter feed of late has been filled with the “Freedom Convoy” protests, and not a single mention of Rocky Wirtz’s outburst when confronted about Kyle Beach. While it is your choice to comment (or not) on an issue, I wish that you could re-channel your passion towards changing hockey culture and other worthy causes. I am certain that if you demonstrate an ability to have a friendly conversation with medical professionals, Crohn’s and Colitis societies you have helped in the past will be much more willing to welcome you again. Furthermore, many more people can look to your 16 years of sobriety as their inspiration. Maybe I can watch you and Jamie Salé on Battle of the Blades once more (assuming she also stops posting misinformation).

I realize that I may be described as “woke” but I am not writing to silence you – in fact, I recognize the enormous influence you hold. I simply want you to think clearly about the path you want to take in your future. I don’t think it’s too late to re-establish yourself as a true “advocate for those who still haven’t found their voice” (as described in your Twitter biography).

Sincerely,

Alvin Ma
Sport policy advocate and contributor to Hockey in Society

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