Any parent with a kid who plays sports has likely encountered some version of the asshole soccer dad — the guy who treats every game like it’s Game 7 of the Pee Wee World Championship. To get an up close and unflinching view of this guy as a worst case scenario, look no further than former NHL star Patrick O’Sullivan’s harrowing story of the abuse he endured at the hands of his own father as a gifted hockey star coming up in Canada’s junior leagues.
It’s a gritty, terrifying account that involves jump ropes used as whips, being dragged from bed and locked out of the house in the middle of winter, and cigarettes extinguished on skin, all in the name of building up “toughness.” The emotional abuse is just as appalling, with O’Sullivan forced to come to grips with the fact that, as he climbed through the sport’s ranks, each success was seen by his father as validation. It gets so bad that he needs to file for a restraining order before attending the NHL draft, where he was selected in the second round and played for 5 seasons.
O’Sullivan’s writes his story as a call to action, not to guys like his dad, but to every other parent who’s ever seen a kid suffering under guys like him. “Either you have it or your don’t,” he writes. “All this hardass training stuff is just fluff, and it enables the same culture that allowed my father to treat me like an animal in front of other adults for so many years. It started right in the parking lot. People saw it. They just didn’t have the courage to say anything.”
And he has some advice for every parent who feels their kid might just have what it takes to go pro: “You know when you actually get good at sports? When you’re having fun and being creative. When you’re being a kid. When you don’t even realize you’re getting better, that’s when you’re getting better.” Keep that in mind if you ever feel yourself getting worked up on the sideline of Junior’s soccer game.