Former CFL player J.R. LaRose empowers students by opening up about troubled childhood

Nowadays, you can find former CFL player J.R. LaRose touring schools across the country, sharing his personal stories of growing up without a father, family addiction, and being a victim of sexual abuse.

The former football player is now on a weeklong tour of 13 schools in the Medicine Hat area, sharing his story to children in elementary schools and high schools.

“(Yesterday) I met a young boy who had gone through different kinds of abuse and he ended up giving me a big hug after. That’s something so precious. The fact that he felt he was not alone, that’s what it comes down to,” LaRose said.

“There’s so many people who live with shame because they’ve gone through abuse or they have parents who have a form of addiction and no one wants to talk about it.”

LaRose played in the Canadian Junior Football League, where he won the 2005 Canadian Bowl with the Edmonton Huskies. He spent nine seasons in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions, winning the Grey Cup with the Lions in 2011.

But his journey to success has been a harrowing one.

LaRose — a member of the One Arrow First Nation in Saskatchewan — grew up in low-income housing in inner-city Edmonton.

His mother, a survivor of Canada’s residential school system, suffered from a drug addiction.

He never met his father, who was deported back to Nigeria before he was born.

“The majority of my family struggled with addiction. My sister was an addict for many years,” LaRose said.

“Growing up with all that anger, sports was a such a huge outlet for me, sports were a place I could come and I was able to get out all my built-up aggression in a safe and controlled environment.”

But as a kid, he felt like he was alone in his struggle.

In Grade 5, former American and Canadian football kick returner and wide receiver, Henry (Gizmo) Williams, spoke at his elementary school.

“His story was very similar to what I was going through, what I was facing. I remember sitting there in the back of the gym and I said I want to be exactly like that man,” LaRose said.

“From that day forward, I wore a No. 2 because that’s the jersey he wore and I wanted to be exactly like him. He gave me hope.”

So he started playing football, trying to emulate the man he aspired to be.

“When I found something I was passionate about, which was football, I realized that was going to give me the opportunity to change my living situation,” LaRose said.

He kept his past traumas close to his chest for most of his Canadian Football League career.

But in 2009, he started thinking maybe he could reveal his story.

“I heard a former NHL player share his story in 2009 of abuse and stuff,” LaRose said.

“When I heard his story, I felt the strength to share my story It was like a huge weight lifted off my chest.”

Since then, LaRose has visited more than 400 schools speaking to youth. His hope is to inspire them to take control of their lives, despite the challenges that may be stacked against them.

“It’s healing. Every time I share it, it’s healing knowing that I’m going to help somebody else who may be going through similar things that I’ve gone through,” he said.

“I don’t allow the trauma to control the man, and I don’t allow the abuse to overtake my life. I’ve conquered that.”

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