Yesterday, a video that hockey fans would never even have dared hope for showed up on Yahoo’s (excellent) hockey blog Puck Daddy. It is probably better not to explain it, and not only because it is difficult to explain how or why you are about to watch NHL legend Theoren Fleury performing his country music at the Saddledome in Calgary, where he once scored 51 goals in a season:
If you don’t know much about Fleury the hockey player, you probably know something or other about Fleury the drug addict and embattled soul. Though Fleury’s career began with a Stanley Cup and ended with an Olympic gold medal, the route he traced between those two signal accomplishments was the least direct and most treacherous one possible. In this sense, and because Fleury has always seemed like someone looking for something resembling an answer, his choice to set his search to country music makes a certain amount of sense.
Theo doesn’t really sing especially well, but he does name-check Conway Twitty in the first stanza, and the song has some really nice pedal steel guitar in it. As with everything else having to do with Theo Fleury, “As the Story Goes” feels something like a balancing act between accepting the shit life hands you--life has handed Fleury plenty, and he has grabbed a bunch on his own--and the desire to reach toward something better. “I got my kids back, I saw the face in my youngest boy,” he sings. Literal, sure, but if this is his redemption, then God bless him. Everyone deserves a little more of that.
I’m not sufficiently attuned to Canadian popular culture (or country music scene, for that matter) to say much about Fleury’s significance in and to that country. I know that he has a story dramatic enough to match his game on the ice, at once exceptional and emblematic. He was an undersized, overlooked player from the beginning. When he revealed that he had been abused by Graham James, the Juniors coach who was a sort of Canadian analogue to Jerry Sandusky, the news came as a shock, but also made a sad sort of sense. Fleury always seemed like he was battling more demons than met the casual eye.
In the last few years, Fleury has been on a sort of one-man multimedia redemption campaign. He performed a pairs figure skating routine to his song “As the Story Goes” on Canada’s “Battle of the Blades,” which is essentially “Dancing with the Stars” on ice, only with Jeremy Roenick is one of the judges. His partner? Jamie Sale, of Sale-Pelletier, and the 2002 Olympic figure skating controversy. There is a lot of redemption being served here.
Earlier this year, Fleury’s book, Playing with Fire: The Highest Highs and Lowest Lows of Theo Fleury, in which he first made the allegations against James, was adapted into a successful one-man show in Canada. Fleury has also played minor league baseball and (per Wikipedia) launched a clothing line called FAKE in the years since he retired, which is less redemptive than it is proof that his work ethic has not deserted him. James was sentenced to prison time because of what Fleury wrote, but criminal justice is not a substitute for closure, which may be a false promise when it comes to this kind of trauma, anyway. Meanwhile, Fleury appears to be coping, managing, even thriving by doing things to challenge himself and other people’s notion of that self. By speaking out again and again, and by singing, and mostly and most admirably by refusing to be silent.