Note: For those currently unaware, SB Nation has partnered with the It's On Us campaign for a second year that is focused on halting cases of sexual assault on college campuses and elsewhere in the United States. For more on the campaign and SBN's partnership, please click here and check out the full collection of stories here. Long-time LBC contributor Shane O'Donnell returns to bring us his story.
To start, I do want to apologize to people who don't want to be hearing about or debating something like this on a sports site. I understand that you may come here for the hockey, and the hockey alone (nothing wrong with that). This campaign offered a forum, and I decided to utilize it.
There's just something about sports that truly binds people together, especially when those people normally wouldn't be friendly toward one another. I've been to Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, and been able to befriend random strangers simply by talking about hockey. There aren't many other organizations in society that have the type of pull and reach that sports do, and because of this, I think that SBN's choice to make their blogs a place to raise awareness of sexual assault is not only the admirable thing to do, but also the right thing to do.
I'd like to share my story, and as such, it's going to be fairly graphic and personal. Please consider this a disclaimer, and do not read further if you feel you may be sensitive to such material.
(Quick background on me; I've lived in South Florida my whole life, started playing roller hockey at the age of 10, transitioned to ice hockey at 12, and played for 6 years. I currently attend the University of Central Florida, where I really have no idea what to major in, and play on the Knights hockey team.)
High School is hard, regardless of what anyone says. High School is figuring out who you are, what you like to do, what your interests are outside, what type of friends you want to hang out with, and most importantly, figuring out how to handle responsibility. Grades, clubs, sports, social life, work, and family will drain your time in ways you never thought possible, and there are certainly times where you feel like you literally have no time to devote to any of those things.
I started high school as a 4'9 kid who weighed 95 pounds, soaking wet. I was born six days before the age cutoff in South Florida, and have always been one of the youngest kids in my class. My class valedictorian, in fact, was a year and fifteen days older than me.
Everyone seemed so massive when I first started high school (I was just tiny). My freshman year of ice hockey was interesting, as I was always the smallest player on the ice. I took my fair share of hits. I'm pretty sure I did a complete flip in the air once or twice. My grandmother would also be praying the Rosary, in the stands, while I was on the ice. But no matter how many times I got knocked down, I would get right back up, and keep skating.
That was kind of how I tackled my life, up to that point. Bad grade on a test? Just do better on the next one. Tough day at school? Make sure the next one is better. Having trouble getting people to hang out with? Be nicer and friendlier to everyone tomorrow. Every time I got knocked down, I was motivated to get back up. That was just how I functioned; I guess I had never even considered what would happen if I got hit so hard that I couldn't get back up. I never really thought the day would come, to be honest.
I started dating, as high schoolers do, and ended up in a relationship with a girl that would end up lasting for two years (if you count the times we broke up and got back together). In the summer between my junior and senior year was when we broke up for the first time, and it was because I had met someone else. Though I knew deep down it would never work with either one of the girls, I still convinced myself I should try to have a relationship with the new girl that I had met.
I had signed up for more than I could bargain. The whole story isn't mine to share, but she definitely was someone who struggled throughout her youth. To this day, I still don't think I've ever met someone as strong as her, and I'm not entirely sure that I ever will.
One thing that is mine to share is that she was suicidal, and it was due to a sexual assault she had experienced at a young age. I would get calls late at night (usually around one or two in the morning) that would leave me as panicked, terrified, and listless as she was. I could never understand her fears, so I never knew how console her properly. I tried my best, and I guess I succeeded, as she never actually "pulled the trigger", though there were some close calls. This was my first real experience with how sexual assault could affect a person; this was year's later, and the psychological damage done was nowhere near being healed.
As school grew ever closer, the situation got worse. The calls became more frequent, and I also started to face criticism and etcetera from my friends who had felt that what I had done to my previous girlfriend was borderline unforgivable. All of that would culminate in one horrendous night, that left me scarred for life.
I got a phone call around midnight. I answered, knowing that the voice behind the line would be panicky, and in need of a reassurance I couldn't provide. I would stay on that line for about two hours, aimlessly wandering my street, trying desperately to save the life of someone who was too many miles away to be helped in person. To tell the whole story would be unfair to the victim, but I can summarize.
Her ex-boyfriend, who had been at her house to help calm her, raped her. Right then and there, in the house. While she was at possibly the most vulnerable state that she had ever been. I was on the phone for the entire length of the atrocity, and I still have trouble with long conversations on the phone because of that. Picture yourself in my shoes. You've sacrificed a two-year relationship, and countless hours of sleep for this girl. You just spent two hours on the phone with her, at a time when most kids your age are asleep. Now you have to witness her suffer, and in a way that leaves the worst of the atrocities up to your imagination. Knowing that you are, for all intents and purposes, powerless. The police would arrive eventually, but I was no longer on the phone when they did.
I am not the victim here, though. I don't know what possessed him to commit such a horrible act of violence, but I do know why she didn't press charges against him. No one would have taken her side. He was well liked by a lot of people, and seemed genuinely apologetic, and he would have gotten the lowest possible sentence for a minor (if that). To her, it just wasn't worth it.
I'll admit that I was weak. I couldn't handle something like that. Life had knocked me down, hard, and I stayed down for a while. It took a couple of really great people to truly get me back up on my feet again, and I owe those people my life. I've been able to move on from that night, on the phone, and I've been able to live my life as I should. I don't know if I can say the same for her.
And that's not even the scariest part about this story. Now that I'm in college, I see how bad the underage drinking truly is. I try to hang out with people that don't drink, simply because I have more fun when I'm sober than I do when I'm drunk. But I know that I will most likely end up facing another situation where I am witnessing a possible sexual assault occur.
When I do, I know this time that I'll do whatever's necessary to stop it from happening. I will make sure that events like this don't occur anymore. As the slogan says, It's On Us, together, to make sure that events like this don't occur anymore.
This story doesn't relate to hockey, but I want people to understand that hockey players aren't immune from this type of attitude towards women. Though we've seen examples of it in the CHL, that merely scratches the surface of where hockey stands when it comes to attitudes towards women. My final season of travel hockey, there was a female player good enough to play in the male league. She played on my team, and though she may not have been the best player, she certainly played as hard (if not harder) than the rest of the guys on the team.
It was a guarantee that at least once a week, she would be asked to perform sexual favors, such as "Hey, show us your tits." or "If I score, we're gonna have sex, right?".
These weren't serious, and no one actually expected her to comply. We thought it was all fun and games. I realize now it was the perpetuation of the wrong attitude towards women, the attitude that says males are owed something from women, or that men are allowed to try and force sex out of women, be it through physical or psychological forces.
We sometimes act as if we're greater than the other sports, even though hockey players have had the same problems other sports have, especially when it comes to domestic violence and sexual assault. Pretending hockey doesn't have the same issues as the rest of the world perpetuates the problem; It's On Us to put an end to it.