Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Disgraced hockey coach a monster

Graham James's sex assaults ruined young lives forever

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Graham James molested vulnerable teenage boys after isolating them from their families, taking control of their education, bribing them with cash and other favours and convincing them he held the keys to their NHL careers.

He has admitted the assaults, although his lawyer claimed Wednesday the pervert didn't understand the boys felt pressured into complying with his sexual demands.

Nonsense. The man's a monster. He took advantage of his reputation as a hockey giant to ruin boys who dreamed of an NHL career.

All that's left to be determined is what sentence should be given to the former coach and hockey scout for his actions against two of his charges, former NHL star Theoren Fleury and junior player Todd Holt.

Vile details came out in court Wednesday: the disgraced coach's sexual fetish, the acts he performed on the unwilling teens, how he would arrange to have the players sleep at his house so he could molest them during the night, how all his victims tried to wrap themselves tightly in blankets and sheets so he couldn't touch their flesh.

Yesterday, court heard victim-impact statements from Fleury and Holt.

Fleury, whose courageous decision to publicly identify himself as a Graham James victim took his former coach's crime spree out of its grubby shadows, was not in court.

Crown attorney Colleen McDuff read his victim-impact statement.

"I was just a kid. A child. I was completely under Graham James's control.

"I descended into years of drug addiction, alcoholism and addictions to sex, gambling, rage. My loved ones, including my beloved children, spiralled down with me. And no matter how many NHL games I won, or money I made, or fame I gained could dull the pain of having been sexually abused by Graham James."

He estimated James assaulted him more than 150 times.

And then it was the turn of Todd Holt, who struggled to maintain his composure. James ruined his life, he said, leaving him a "broken, battered young man who lost everything -- my motivation, my innocence and my soul."

He estimates James assaulted him more than 400 times in a five-year period. Every personal relationship in his life was shattered by James's abuse of his body and trust, he said.

Defence attorney Evan Roitenberg said James was "a man who never, ever wanted to hurt anybody." James, he said, wanted to "develop strong, intimate relationships with these men (his players)."

Roitenberg maintains James somehow didn't understand his victims would view him in such a position of authority and trust that they'd go along with his sexual demands out of fear. Allegedly, he thought they were friends who had consented.

Let's see: James had groomed the boys in the way of all who prey on children. He took them on holidays and to professional baseball games. He shaped their hockey careers. Fleury was forced to sleep at his house twice a week for "tutoring." James put him on a cot in his bedroom. The windows were blacked out so no one could see in or out.

James was essentially Theron Fleury's guardian. He was able to take the teen out of school for a month-long "holiday" that involved taking the youngster to the Maritimes to meet his parents. The sex assaults continued along the way.

When Holt resisted his coach's advances, the Crown said, James threatened him with reduced ice time. He eventually offered the boy money to perform sex acts.

Graham James is nobody now. He's shrunken, small and grey. His reputation is that of a sexual predator.

He ruined the lives of boys who looked to him as a father figure and leader. It's too bad he can't be imprisoned for as long as they will suffer.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Crimes against Theoren Fleury

First met James in 1982 when Fleury was just 14 and a rising young hockey prospect.

Fleury's father was an alcoholic. His mother had mental issues. This left Fleury "vulnerable." "Hockey was his life," says Crown attorney Colleen McDuff.

James recruited Fleury, 15, to play for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.

James began fondling and touching Fleury during the many times they would travel together on hockey trips, often sleeping in the same bed.

The incidents escalated in both volume and nature, becoming more serious sexual assaults.

Fleury says he eventually just gave in to the attacks, citing "exhaustion." "I was physically there but mentally gone," he says.

James took him on a month-long trip to Nova Scotia in 1984 to meet his parents, showering him with fancy dinners and other gifts.

The attacks ended in 1985 when James left the Warriors following a dispute.

James and Fleury maintained a friendship for more than a decade. They partnered to bring a junior hockey team to Calgary, the Hitmen, which James coached and managed.

Fleury finally came forward as a victim in October 2009 in his book, Playing With Fire, after a successful National Hockey League career.

Crimes against Todd Holt

First met James in 1989, when Holt was 15 and began playing for the Swift Current Broncos, who James was coaching.

The attacks continued until 1994, when Holt's junior career ended.

They included hundreds of incidents of fondling and sexual acts performed by James.

James used threats against Holt. On one occasion, after catching him smoking, he forced him to sleep in James's room during a road trip as "punishment."

"He would tell him, 'You're not going to make it. You're a (expletive) piece of (expletive),' " said Crown attorney Colleen McDuff.

James also tried to get Holt to feel sorry for him, saying he was lonely, homosexual and had no friends.

In 1997, Holt provided a letter of support for James as he was set to be sentenced for molesting three other former players. McDuff says James tracked Holt down in the U.S. to ask for the document.

Holt says the abuse cost him his hockey career and had a devastating effect on his personal life, including his marriage, which ended in divorce.

He came forward shortly after Fleury revealed how James had abused him.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2012 A4

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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