The Three Wise Men – by Bob Spensley

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 4.46.28 PMIf I were faced with an angry bench-clearing brawl headed towards me, there are three men who I’d wish were beside me as teammates. I’d want them with me because they instill fear in opponents, and there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to protect their own. In this way, they are strong men, and between them, if the going got tough in these circumstances, they could probably save my life.

But it’s what they are each now doing off the ice that makes them way stronger.

And what they are doing is not in reaction to something in a game that triggered a series of intense chain reactions, it’s being done with conscious reflection, in courageous vulnerability, and in the process of doing it they are quite possibly helping save many lives. That is why it is worth listening to and reading the books by Theo Fleury, Clint Malarchuk and Jordin Tootoo.

I don’t know how many people out there picked up these three books written by hockey players and purposefully searched for their similarities, but they are dramatically clear. Playing With Fire (Theo Fleury), The Crazy Game (Clint Malarchuk) and All the Way(Jordin Tootoo) all stand proud and tell the world that it’s not only okay to ask for help- asking for help makes all the difference in the world.

From their own trauma and reflection, and – it must be said – maturity, all three men come to remarkably similar conclusions: true strength comes from sharing feelings, and expressing our vulnerabilities in the context of safe relationship is what keeps us healthy in the full sense of the word. These three men – who are as tough as they come – have each openly acknowledged for the world to see that they are still on this earth to help others find their own way.

In the game of life, albeit one day at a time, they are coming out on top. They put themselves in positions to inspire countless others to dig deep, find their own courage and help stop the cycles of abuse and hurt that we know are so prevalent around us. The challenges these men have collectively faced square-on are remarkable: fetal exposure, early childhood trauma, alcoholic/not available parents, sexual abuse, mental illness, OCD, career and life-threatening injury, out-of-control addiction, cultural isolation, strings of broken relationships, and in all three cases, issues around suicide.

By sharing their life stories in each of their first books (Playing With Fire, The Crazy Game and All the Way), Theo Fleury, Clint Malarchuk and Jordin Tootoo have done not just the hockey world, but all of us a favour. If some of the toughest guys out there are telling us it is not only okay, but essential for us to open up and share our feelings – guess what? We might finally get it. And save countless years of heartache and social dysfunction, and yes, this message is what is seriously revving the accelerator in the cycle of healing.

Five years after the release of Playing With Fire, Fleury’s had a few years to reflect on what comes next after the initial reveal. In his second book Conversations With a Rattlesnake (co-authored with therapist/friend Kim Barthel and just released) they expand on that initial message that sharing with people you trust is good. In simple language that everyone can relate to, CWAR encourages reflection on the full spectrum of dynamics that surrounds trauma and healing. Concepts like “there’s always a reason for the behaviour” and “hurt people hurt people” are discussed in ways that don’t shame anyone. And facts like “we can change our brains until we stop breathing” and “helping is healing” allow us not only to understand ourselves better but to internalize that there are concrete reasons to feel hope.

Fleury, Malarchuk and Tootoo all experienced childhood trauma and they all faced complex challenges later in life. Each of their stories is harrowing and will speak to different audiences in different ways. But each of these guys was able to find resiliency, each one was able to find people they could trust to help them through, and each one deserves to be applauded for standing up and sharing their vulnerabilities. At many times in each of their lives they felt like they were alone. They know now that we never are – childhood trauma, mental illness and addiction are more common than any of us realize – and they know now that it’s fully okay to ask for help. To get themselves to this conclusion took each of them a hell of a lot of inner strength.

But to share this conclusion (with their own examples) in a world that all too often is trying to look tough? That is a process that took wisdom, and higher purpose.

I recently heard an interview with Fleury talking with Boomer on Sportsnet 960 –The Fan and this is what he said:

“Incredible courage by Clint to come out and talk about his experiences. We need more of that. We need more conversations like that. ‘Cause as guys we stuff our feelings, we don’t talk about them. We either drink them away, or snort them away, or get into relationships that we shouldn’t be in, etc. etc. to mask, you know, hiding our feelings when, you know, it’s as simple as saying “I don’t need you to you say anything, just to listen.”

“We weren’t put on this earth to be alone. We are put on this earth to connect with people and to have relationships with people. That includes guys, you know, guys need to have that. You don’t have to suffer in silence. And it doesn’t mean you’re weak…You don’t have to live in pain.”

Sounds to me like a 100% accurate statement from someone I wholeheartedly believe will one day be in the Hockey Hall of Fame. That induction ceremony will be something else.

It’s good for hockey to have such ambassadors. Theo, Clint and Jordin – on behalf of all of us, thank you.

— Written by Bob Spensley