Patrick O’Sullivan’s story, in more than one way, is not new. It’s been told already many times by him, including a memorable 2003 Star Tribune article written by Chris Snow after O’Sullivan was drafted by the Wild. And it’s been told by countless others, with their own awful details and pain swapped for his.
But as I’m finding on several occasions lately, there is something extremely powerful about the telling of a tale in a person’s own words. So when O’Sullivan decided to open up his wound once more and write on The Players’ Tribune this week about the horrific abuse he experienced from his father growing up, it was a forceful and purposeful reminder of the painful past as well as a possibly better future.
O’Sullivan, the Wild’s second-round pick in 2003, was traded three years later to the Kings as part of the deal that landed Pavol Demitra. He found his way back to the Wild for 21 games in the 2010-11 season and wound up with 58 career goals in a modest NHL career.
His words, however, are his legacy. A few excerpts from the story:
So let me be really clear about what happened to me. From the moment I got my first pair of hockey skates at five years old … every day after hockey, no matter how many goals I scored, he would hit me. The man was 6-foot-2, 250 lbs. It would start as soon as we got in the car, and sometimes right out in the parking lot. By the time I was 10, it got worse. He would put cigarettes out on me. Choke me. Throw full soda cans at my head. Every time I stepped on the ice, I knew that my play would determine just how bad I got it when we got home.
And this, detailing how O’Sullivan was the top pick in the Ontario Hockey League draft at age 16, which only intensified the abuse. At one point, his dad dragged him off the team bus — what proved to be a defining moment.
I got in the car and he started driving home. And then something in me just snapped. We stopped to pick up my sisters at our grandparents’ house, and I jumped out and said, “This is all stopping right now. I’m not going home.” We got into a fight. Our first real fight, where I fought back, and didn’t stop. My mom and grandparents watched from the window as we brawled right in the driveway. It went on for minutes, which is an eternity in a fight. I can’t even remember how it finally stopped. I just remember him jumping in the car and driving off. I ran into the house and called the police.
O’Sullivan deftly details how the rink was his escape, how his dad kept stalking him in spite of a restraining order and how the sickness of youth sports culture allowed the abuse to go on — and allowed his dad to think that his methods were helping. Where the piece is particularly important is in these parts, where O’Sullivan shifts away from his own experience into bigger picture ideas:
I’m not writing this article for my father. I’m writing it for the people in the parking lot. Yes, if you say something, you may ruin the relationship you have with that person. You may get embarrassed in front of the other hockey parents. You may have to go through the awkwardness of filing a police report. I can understand why a lot of people worry, “But what if I’m wrong?” If you are wrong, that’s the absolute best case scenario. The alternative is that child is a prisoner in his own home. What you’re seeing in the parking lot or outside the locker room — whether it’s a kid getting grabbed and screamed at, or shoved up against a car — could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Fantastic, harrowing, powerful stuff. I encourage you all to read it.