It will inevitably be called a dark moment for hockey, as if Graham James’ serial sexual abuse of children was a perverse anomaly.
It’s worse than that. It’s a dark moment for everyone, though we are learning that this sort of shadow finds too many corners in locker rooms.
Once again, former junior coach James stood in front of a judge on Wednesday and was convicted of sex crimes. The court sat in Winnipeg. James blandly delivered his lines via video link from Montreal, where he is free on bail.He will remain free until his Feb. 22 sentencing.
James has already served 3½ years in prison for assaults on several of his other charges, including former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy.
James ran once before, but there’s nowhere for him to hide now. He has become the wearisome and malignant Canadian face of child abuse.
As part of a plea, James admitted guilt in the sexual abuse of two more of his young players, former Calgary Flames star Theoren Fleury and a second man whose name remains under a publication ban.
The ugly details were read out in an agreed statement of facts. How James began his abuse of Fleury by fondling him while he slept. How it escalated to forced oral sex. How, perhaps most damaging of all, he coerced Fleury’s silence by threatening to extinguish his NHL hopes if he told anyone.
The modus operandi was the same in both cases.
There is something twisted and mythic about Graham James. Like a storybook monster, he fed on the dreams of children. That was the word Fleury used to describe him — “monster.”
On TV, this would have been a moment of exhalation. The villain is bound by law and knows to a certainty that his punishment is coming. The victims get to move on, knowing that their persecutor will pay and, more importantly, that their stories have been vindicated.
Sadly, life isn’t like that. Everybody involved lost and will continue losing forever. Some crimes spiral out eternally. Vindication is a paltry thing measured against a lifetime of remembering.
Fleury didn’t sound relieved, or whatever word it is that we now reflexively attach to those who’ve suffered and survived.
“When he gets out of prison, he will do it again, and again, and again,” Fleury said from Calgary. “I believe what people show me. He showed me he was and is a rapist.”
Referring to James’ previous conviction and his infamous pardon, Fleury dismissed the entire notion of justice in this particular.
“What the legal system has shown me is that it’s flawed, very, very seriously, and that we have to change.”
Another of the children James preyed on, Greg Gilhooly, had even less to hang on to. The charges James faced in his case were stayed Wednesday.
Gilhooly has managed to find his footing in the world. He works as a corporate lawyer. He used that training to detach himself from the human element here — that human element being himself — and view things at a professional remove.
“The Crown gets a guilty plea,” Gilhooly said approvingly. “The Crown gets agreement to the statement of fact without opposition. And the Crown didn’t have to cut a deal on sentence.”
He appended that thought with a closing look inward: “Everybody gets what they want but me.”
There is no ending here, happy or otherwise.
As in the case of Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky — jailed on Wednesday — or Syracuse coach Bernie Fine — who skipped on several charges because of statute of limitations problems — there is only human wreckage.
All that’s left behind is a corrosive suspicion of the many good-hearted people who want to teach kids how to skate or tackle or dribble.
There is no lesson to be learned or guarantee of future vigilance.
All there is by way of apology for several lives destroyed is punishment. It’s a completely necessary and ultimately unsatisfying resolution.
Graham James took something wonderful — mentorship, sport, childish hopes — and twisted them into something horrible. No jail sentence can scrub off that taint.
Source: The Star