The 3½-year plea-bargained prison sentence handed down last week in Calgary to acclaimed Canadian junior hockey coach Graham James hardly puts an end to a horrific tale of sexual abuse. For victims like Sheldon Kennedy, a Boston Bruins right wing who went public with his story of being abused by James for a decade, the agonizing memories never go away. "I always felt I was not normal," says Kennedy. "My life was so backwards." Adds his wife, Jana, "The biggest crime that Graham James committed was that he stole Sheldon's youth."
Kennedy, one of a number of NHL players who were coached by James in the junior leagues, met with reporters last Saturday in Calgary to discuss his struggle to overcome the pain inflicted by James, for whom he played four seasons on junior teams in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and who sexually abused him more than 300 times from 1984 through '94. Kennedy was also present at James's sentencing after James pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault. Kennedy didn't testify, but it was his gut-wrenching decision to go to Calgary police in August that prompted the investigation of James, who in 1989 was named Man of the Year by Inside Hockey for his coaching and his crusade against violence in the sport.
Kennedy says that James threatened him with a gun the first time he abused him, at age 14, and during the period that he played for him, James forcefully engaged him in lewd acts on a twice-a-week basis. So strong was James's hold on Kennedy that the abusive relationship continued even after he left James's team. Prosecutors said that James also sexually victimized another young player at least 50 times. That player was not named.
How could a respected coach—who helped produce talent such as Colorado Avalanche captain Joe Sakic and Calgary Flames sniper Theo Fleury—get away with it? It's not all that surprising, given the environment of junior hockey. Kennedy was a troubled youth, a heavy drinker at 14, who longed to play pro hockey, a dream his family pushed. When the call came from James to join his team in Winnipeg, Kennedy says, "My parents couldn't get me to the bus fast enough." When he arrived, Kennedy, like most junior players, was away from home for the first time, living among strangers. Though he was deeply disturbed by the abuse, Kennedy saw James as an authority figure and a father figure, as well as a facilitator of his dreams. And James, says Kennedy, is a smart man who preyed on young players' vulnerabilities. Kennedy has been seeing a psychologist twice a week for seven months, but going public, he hopes, will be the best therapy.
"I've had a shield up," says Kennedy. "I do not let anybody in. People like Graham, it's like they open up your skin and replace your heart."
A Punch in the Fly
In answering a lawsuit brought by a Phoenix bartender, boxer Michael Carbajal said he hit the bartender during a brawl because he "was afraid of the guy." Given that Carbajal earns his living with his fists and the bartender weighs just 160 pounds, that excuse may sound flimsy. But consider that Carbajal, the IBF junior flyweight champion, tips the scales at 108, and the defense carries a little more weight.
Hall Oh Fame
Pitcher Phil Niekro was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame on Monday, and his lengthy and productive career make him a worthy choice. But a far more fabulous talent was left out. In fact, Sadaharu Oh wasn't even eligible.
Because only former U.S. major leaguers and Negro leaguers can be elected to the Hall as players, Oh, who retired in 1980 after belting 868 home runs in 22 seasons as a first baseman in Japan's Central League, has never been considered. "I never heard of getting me into the shrine of baseball," says Oh, who manages the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks. "I know there are many U.S. players who should be in Cooperstown who are not, so I feel a little awkward."