Over the span of his 12-year NHL career, Chris Nilan was known for his rough and tumble style of hockey and willingness to drop the gloves at any cost to protect a teammate. Compiling over 3,000 penalty minutes throughout his career, Nilan earned himself the nickname “Knuckles” for obvious reasons. He was a key part of the 1986 Stanley Cup winning Montreal Canadiens, as he played all but two games during that season’s playoff run. Nilan’s passion and desire to stick up for his teammates is something he did with pride, whether he was a Hab, Ranger or Bruin.
These days Nilan is no longer dropping the gloves with other tough guys, but instead taking on bullies of all ages. Residing in the Montreal area, the Boston native is highly active within elementary and high schools raising awareness about bullying and informing today’s youth about its severity.
“I try to make them aware that when someone is bullying someone it’s not playing around, it’s not horsing around, it’s not joking around, it’s serious,” Nilan explained. “I try to make them aware that their words can be more hurtful to a person. Kids often worry about a bully beating them up and I tell them that any punch or slap or physical abuse often doesn’t come close to the pain of depression and loneliness that can come with someone being bullied in the verbal sense,” he said.
Although he was known as scrapper during his time in the NHL, Nilan says he only did so as a protector of his teammates, a role he says was obtained from his father, a military man.
“Well my dad taught me at a young age that when I go off to school he didn’t want anyone from the school calling him saying that I’ve picked on a kid younger, smaller or weaker than me. He also told me that if anything, I should stick up for other kids because he expected it of me,” Chris recalled.
“A lot of people say that I fought when I played hockey and this and that but the fact is if you look at my track record I wasn’t a bully, I was a defender,” elucidated Nilan. “I was a protector and stuck up for my teammates, I did my job to the best of my ability and it was mostly in a defensive role to defend my teammates, not so much to be the bully.”
By traveling through many schools and speaking with various age groups regarding the subject of bullying, Nilan focuses his presentations on the causes and effects of bullying, as well as the importance of stepping up and becoming a protector. Stressing the importance of speaking up and having a voice rather than using physical force to address bullying, Nilan says reeducating someone who is a bully or who picks on others is just as important as putting an end to his or hers aggressive behaviour and that starts with the involvement of parents and teachers.
“The only way we’re going to put a stop to this is, is if we get the children to get the adults involved. If the adults don’t get involved were not going to be able to totally get it out of schools. If children start to speak up for themselves and they speak up to the principal or anyone in a position of authority so they’re aware, they’re able to not only mediate the situation but the teachers then are able to reeducate the bully,” Chris explicated.
“The bully is often envious or resentful to someone. I point out the fact that in every case of bullying, there are people around and usually those people are bystanders and followers. The followers usually encourage the bully out of fear so they back them up and support them so they are able to escape the wrath of being the target or victim. The one person that is very rarely around is the defender, the person that will say ‘stop leave them alone.’”
It is no secret that over recent years bullying has become an issue in the forefront of concern in our education system. With various forms of awareness such as movies and help lines, it’s people like Chris Nilan who can have an influence and choose to use their status in a positive, informative manner. Who better to spread the word against bullying than someone who made a living sticking up for guys who were smaller or didn’t posses the size and strength to compete with some of the toughest guys in the NHL.
To learn more about Chris Nilan and his work within the community, visit http://www.knucklesnilan.com/