a hockey coach gets his way

“The coach is so respected. Your parents send you away and say, ‘Do what he says.’ At that age, you listen. That’s your first step if you want to play pro.”

Sheldon Kennedy is a former NHL hockey player. In 1996 Kennedy stepped forward with complaints of sexual abuse by his former junior level hockey coach Graham James.

His public declaration was part of a bitter and humbling journey that never seems to go away.

Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times that he “was 14 or 15 and James was 31 or 32 when the assaults began. Every Tuesday and Thursday for six years…He considered me his wife. There was absolutely nowhere for me to turn. I had no one, nobody.'”

But there were at least two others.

In 1997 James pleaded guilty to two charges of sexual assault.  The cases involved 100’s of incidents against two of his former players over the span of 10 years.  He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison, and the Canadian Hockey League banned him from ever coaching in Canada again.

It wasn’t until 2009 when retired hockey star Theoren Fleury confirmed allegations of abuse by James in his autobiography Playing with Fire.

Fleury writes, “The direct result of my being abused was that I became a f—ing raging, alcoholic lunatic…(James) destroyed my belief system.  The most influential adult in my life at the time was telling me that what I thought was wrong was right.”

Fleury says that he too was required to sleep over at James’ house twice a week.  But it was for more than sleep.  He says James tried to masturbate him or give him oral sex.  Fleury tried to resist but he was weakened by exhaustion and the constant threats of a ruined career.

Pegged as “James’ favourites”, Fleury recounts occasions where Kennedy and himself had to be witness to each other’s abuse.

In 1984 James coaxed them into a road trip to Disneyland where he abused Kennedy in the front seat while Fleury slept in the back.

But that wasn’t all—they stayed in motels during the trip and Kennedy and Fleury would take turns sleeping with James.

“Think about how sick that was.” Fleury writes.

Recent news that in 2007, James received a pardon from the National Parole Board has sparked up controversy.  Kennedy thinks that in light of all the attention, more victims will come forward to object.

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