Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Theo Fleury has had one hell of a life. Ignored by his Mother. A drunk for a father. Abused by his coach in his early teens.
Vertically challenged by hockey standards, Fleury never got the respect a young hockey player with his talents should have and ended up being drafted in the 8th round. Despite dealing with his father, young Theo cultivated his own drinking problem; adding drugs to the mix only made things worse in the relationship department. But, despite all the drama, Theo Fleury still managed to have an amazing hockey career.
In Playing with Fire Fleury puts it all out there, detailing the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his coach, Graham James, which ultimately paved the way for his addictions, marital strife, legal issues and suicidal tendencies. At times Fleury comes across as selfish, although he doesn’t see it that way; however, by the end, he will have learned a lot about himself.
It’s unfortunate that such a promising athlete, already dealing with his dysfunctional family life, had to endure even more humiliation and emotional pain at the hands of his coach. Who knows what Fleury could have accomplished as a hockey player had his demons not been pushed to the forefront.
As an avid hockey fan, reading stories about the players I grew up watching was very enjoyable. On a personal note, I am a huge Rangers fan—season ticket holder for 24 years and still counting. For reasons unknown, Fleury felt he was brought to New York so he “could get some of the apathetic New York fans to quit sitting on their hands and at the same time needle the Islander fans”.
Now I have a pretty good feel for Rangers fans—having been to more than 700 games in the last 24 years—and there has never been a shortage of noise in the Garden; we did not need Theo to be our personal volume knob… but I digress.
In addition to his personal statistical achievements, Fleury won a Stanley cup and an Olympic gold medal—an amazing feat for a guy 5’ 6” and 170 pounds. Speed desire and heart all exemplified his hockey career, contrasted by the darkness and heartache of his personal life. As you read Playing with Fire, it will feel like Fleury is speaking directly to you. The writing, like the man, is raw and direct.
In addition to being a fascinating memoir of one of hockey’s most memorable players, complete with stories of league favorites of the 80’s and 90’s, Playing with Fire is foremost a cautionary tale that should be read by young athletes and the parents raising them.
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Triumph Books (October 14, 2009)