I read in today's Toronto Star that a former NHL coach and general manager has made what are usually called "startling revelations" in his new autobiography.
Jacques Demers, a coach and later a general manager in the NHL for 15 years, admits he is illiterate.Hidden illiteracy among adults is more common than you might think - at least in the US it is. Taking a quick look online, I found lots of sites promoting adult literacy, so it must be an issue in Canada, too.
That and other revelations about the life of one of the NHL's more colourful coaches is revealed in a biography in French released yesterday called Jacques Demers En Toutes Lettres, which roughly translates as "Jacques Demers From A To Z."
The book was written by Journal de Montreal desk editor and former Montreal Canadiens beat writer Mario Leclerc.
Demers said at a gala book launch that his inability to read and write resulted from an impoverished childhood. His father beat and psychologically abused Demers and his mother.
"All I wanted from my father was to treat me with love," Demers said. "Not to beat me up when I did something wrong. Not to beat up my mom. It really hurt me because he took away my childhood.
"The other thing I wanted to say was that if I could not write or read, it was because I had so much of a problem with anxiety because of the things going on in the family. I couldn't go to sleep at night. I'd go to school and I couldn't learn anything.
"So the message is, leave the kids alone. Don't beat them up. They're defenceless. Don't beat up their mom in front of the kids."
It is remarkable that Demers was able to coach the Quebec Nordiques, the St. Louis Blues, the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was also general manager in the late 1990s, without being able to read or write.
Only a few people knew of his problem. He finessed his way through most of it, he says in the book, by asking secretaries and media relations people to write letters for him, saying his English wasn't good enough.
More significant, to me, is Demers's admission that he and his mother were abused by Demers's father. Every adult - especially every man - who speaks out about childhood abuse helps to fight domestic violence. Demers, whether he realizes it or not, is reaching out to other abuse survivors, as well as to abusers. Making the overlooked connection between abuse and educational success is positively brilliant.
I especially admire and appreciate this openness when it's found in the world of professional sports. It's a priceless opportunity to reach men, and to make a small crack in the armour of traditional masculinity that causes abuse.
New York Yankees manager Joe Torre has also spoken openly of the abuse he and his mother survived. Torre has made domestic violence his own cause, starting a foundation that raises awareness, does outreach, and helps survivors.
To people involved in the anti-violence movement, Torre's work is monumental. Forty years ago, no one ever spoke openly about childhood and familial abuse. Only twenty-five years ago, it was still often referred to as "wife-beating," and regarded as aberrant behaviour of the lower classes. Athlete foundations generally raise money for non-controversial causes like cancer research. That Torre can use his high profile to join the fight against domestic violence is both a sign that our world has changed, and a great leap forward.
Never doubt the courage it took for Torre and Demers to admit they were beaten - and to ask other men to check their own violent impulses. Never doubt how much it means to other male survivors who are listening. I promise you the stadiums are full of them.
For more information on domestic violence, try here, here and here.