Knuckles Nilan dropping the gloves for kids

Published On November 30, 2012 | By Alice Cook

Chris Nilan was once considered the bully of all bullies. In 13 NHL seasons, Nilan had 251 career fights and a whopping 3,043 penalty minutes.

These days he’s preaching “peace.”

In a recent interview with The Boston Globe’s Stan Grossfield, Nilan denied that he was ever a bully.

“I was just sticking up for my teammates,” he said.

Nilan set the NHL record for most penalty minutes when he was with the Bruins in 1991. He had 10 penalties for a total of 42 penalty minutes in a game against the Hartford Whalers. He was in the box for two thirds of the contest. He was a fighter, but not a bully.

After a 13-year career, Nilan retired and had over 30 hockey related surgeries. He became addicted to his pain medication. The Percocets became OxyContin which briefly became heroin.

With the help his girlfriend, Jamie Holtz, Nilan found the right rehab. He has been “clean and sober” for 17 months.

Now at age 54, Nilan is traveling North America as part of the “No More Bullies Tour.” He decided to speak out against bullying when he heard about the suicide of Phoebe Prince, the South Hadley teen who hanged herself after months of being bullied.

Nilan’s advise to kids is simple. “Just say ‘stop’ if you see someone being bullied,”  he tells students. “Say ‘leave then alone. Stop it now.’”

“Usually the bullying stops within five seconds,” he says. “A very long five seconds for the victim.”

Chris Nilan has cleaned up his act, although he has his regrets. He admits not spending enough time with his family, his marriage of 25  years is over, and he accepts all the blame.

But like any champion fighter, Nilan is up off the mat and swinging away at his demons.

“There’s and old saying,” he told Grossfield. “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up you know? And I keep getting back up.”

As parents of kids of bullied children, or maybe even a victim ourselves, we know how humiliating and devastating it feels. We know it happens in the hallways of our schools, in the locker rooms before gym class, and in school cafeterias everywhere.

Bullying happens when teachers, administrators and coaches are not within earshot. It’s usually sneaky and well timed. Too often it happens to kids who are shy, sensitive and vulnerable.

Nilan leaves the students with a simple three step plan:

“Say stop, leave me alone and walk away. Report it to anyone in a position of authority. Tell your parents.”

When he played hockey, Chris Nilan fought to “defend his teammates.”

Now “Knucles Nilan” has dropped the gloves for good,  in defense of the little guy.


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About The Author

is a veteran television sports reporter and Olympian. Her experience includes 25 years of sports reporting for WBZ-TV, the CBS and former NBC affiliate in Boston. Cook has worked for ESPN, Turner Sports, and WTBS. Cook is a feature writer for She's Game Sports and She is also President and Founder of She's Game Sports LLC.