What many have long suspected, is finally coming to light today. In his new autobiography, Playing With Fire, longtime NHL star Theo Fleury claims to have been sexually abused by his junior hockey coach Graham James.
Back in 1998 I was fortunate enough to cover Games 1 & 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Detroit, and during those days, Sheldon Kennedy had just brought his story of sexual abuse by James to public attention. I observed at his press conference as he talked about raising awareness for the issues that abused teens face; isolation & fear of ridicule, which often leads to substance abuse and anger management problems in adulthood. It was a sad tale, but Kennedy gamely stood in the spotlight to tell it, and helped send James to prison for his crimes.
Many had long thought that Fleury, who was a teammate of Sheldon's in junior and experienced many of the same off-ice problems that Kennedy did, was also a likely victim. As Eric Francis writes in today's Calgary Sun:
While the horrific abuse of trust Kennedy bravely told police of stemmed from a relationship that started when he first met James at age 14, Fleury's introduction to James came at a similar age, leading up to his one-year stint under James in 1984, when he joined the Moose Jaw Warriors as a 16-year-old.
Kennedy played on the same team in 1984-85 and told the Sun yesterday he knew Fleury was also a victim.
"I knew, but it wasn't my place to say anything," said Kennedy, who lives in Calgary and spearheads several programs aimed at curbing abuse.
"I made a commitment to myself I wasn't blowing the whistle on anybody.
"I did know deep down Theo was going to have to deal with it one way or another."
Sheldon's book,Why I Didn't Say Anything: The Sheldon Kennedy Story, is an absolutely heartbreaking read; as a teenager he was victimized by the leading authority figure in his life, and feared the reaction from his teammates. Let's face it, whether it was abuse or not, athletes in general (and young hockey players in particular) typically have a great deal of homophobia in mind when they hear of such things, and wonder to what extent the victim "went along with it". Such thinking makes guys in Kennedy's situation even more isolated from those he should be able to trust.
We can only wish the best of luck to Theo in the months ahead; surely getting these personal demons out into the open will help him, and others down the road. And sadly enough, we know there are others. Again, from Francis:
Shortly after being sentenced in early 1997, James called the Sun with hopes the paper would slam Don Cherry for suggesting on Coach's Corner James be "drawn and quartered" for what he did to innocent teens. When asked if there were more victims, James, now 55 and believed to be living in Montreal, intimated he "loved many people" -- a chilling response suggesting several other players had been abused.
It just makes your skin crawl, doesn't it?
Disclaimer: The links to Fleury and Kennedy's books are Amazon affiliate links.