RALEIGH, N.C. – By his own admission, former NHL superstar Theo Fleury went 25 years without sleeping a solid wink.
The only time Fleury, who began drinking at the age of 16 after beer was purchased for him by Graham James, the sexual predator Fleury alleges ruled his life for three years, slept was with the help of alcohol or drugs. Or both.
“I was abused in a dark room,” Fleury said in an interview last week with WEEI radio in Boston. “Every time I closed my eyes at night, I went back to that dark room. The booze and the drugs allowed me to pass out and at least not think about it.
“I experimented with marijuana, hash, hash oil, and then figured out that I really liked cocaine. And cocaine and vodka was my cocktail that let me leave all of those emotional scars behind.”
Fleury’s off-ice scars, which were graphically detailed in his best-selling autobiography “Playing with Fire,” paint a first-person picture as to what the young victims in State College, Pa., might be experiencing.
Up until the still-emerging scandal at Penn State, fueled by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of several boys, Fleury’s was the most widely known sexual-abuse story in sports history.
Now 43, Fleury and former teammate and NHL player Sheldon Kennedy have spoken out in recent days for support of the victims at Penn State.
James, a prominent junior hockey coach in Canada, pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually assaulting Kennedy and an unnamed player, and served time in prison. Fleury filed a criminal complaint against James in 2010, alleging that he was molested by his coach. The case is still under investigation.
Fleury won a Stanley Cup, an Olympic gold medal with Canada and led the NHL in scoring at one point in his 15-year NHL career. Kennedy played in 310 games for Detroit, Calgary and Boston. But their biggest battles in life weren’t on the ice. Both flirted with suicide in addition to their drug and alcohol addictions that they say stemmed from abuse.
In his book, Fleury admitted to 11 failed drug tests during his 2000-01 season with the Rangers, when he spent many nights sleeping on New York streets with the homeless. That season, he posted 74 points in 62 games.
“I found the purpose for my life,” Fleury said in the interview. “And that is to help people such as the boys from Penn State. If they wanted me to go and speak with them or hang out with them, I’ve learned how to cope with the situation.”
Fleury said since the Penn State scandal broke – and he has been bombarded with television, radio and newspaper interviews – his inbox has been “filled with people finding the courage and strength to come forward and reveal they were also abused.”
Kennedy said the grand-jury presentment surrounding the accusations against Sandusky in State College is proof that “no institution is exempt” from sexual abuse happening.