Opinion

After reading “A Stain on our Game” by Jeff Hamilton, I felt that I needed and wanted to share my views on the six-part article. I feel strongly that this story has critical teachings in it from which we all can learn.

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This article was published 22/12/2020 (225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The life and destructive legacy of Graham James

After reading "A Stain on our Game" by Jeff Hamilton, I felt that I needed and wanted to share my views on the six-part article. I feel strongly that this story has critical teachings in it from which we all can learn.

What really hit close to home for me, again, was Jay Macaulay. I saw myself and so many others who have suffered significant trauma in their lives in Jay. I was there, and I was there for a long time, and it’s brutal. The important part, which I know now, is that there is a way out, and the opportunity to get your power and your life back.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Sheldon Kennedy says abuse is not just a hockey issue; it’s a community issue, and we all must do better.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Sheldon Kennedy says abuse is not just a hockey issue; it’s a community issue, and we all must do better.

Jay, you are not alone with your feelings; with hard work and continued commitment, recovery is possible for all of us.

Piecing this story together was so important, as it allows us to really understand the magnitude of how one pedophile can destroy the lives of so many victims. It also reveals how many knew and said nothing, and how there were countless missed opportunities to have stopped it. (And for clarification, throughout the series interviewees refer to Graham James as being "gay." That is not accurate; he is a sexual predator, and the two terms should not be confused.)

The impact on our youth is undeniable. The research tells us that, and unfortunately, I have come to know this all too well:

  • kids who are abused are 26 times more likely to experience youth homelessness
  • kids who are abused have a 30 per cent higher high school drop-out rate
  • 70 to 80 per cent of sexual abuse survivors report excessive drug and alcohol use
  • children who have been abused are 59 per cent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile
  • people who have suffered abuse are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide
  • 70 per cent of all mental health issues are linked to early childhood trauma

I didn’t come away with the feeling that these articles were written to finger-point or blame; to me, this series presents yet another opportunity to reflect, learn and improve. It’s also crystal clear that this is not just a hockey issue but a community issue, and we all have a personal responsibility to be better.

Graham James took advantage of our collective ignorance and indifference, plain and simple. That's why education is the best defence to empower the bystander. I remember the common responses when my story broke: "This is an isolated case... and it's a hockey issue." Neither is true.

All this said, upon reflection, I do know that sport organizations have taken some bold steps forward over the last 20-plus years. It should be acknowledged that Hockey Canada was the first organization in this country, and perhaps the world, to introduce mandatory training for all coaches specific to the prevention of bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.

Sport Manitoba was the first provincial sport organization to mandate education for all coaches in the province in all sports. Through my involvement with these initiatives, I realize just how bold those decisions were in the face of denial.

It also very apparent to me that because of hockey’s position and stature in our country, we need it to set an even greater example for others to follow. That is a very influential leadership position to be in.

At this point, I’d like to thank all the investigators who took on these cases and believed in us and fought for the truth. In my case, Det. Brian Bell — you saved my life.

I also want to acknowledge all the survivors in this story and beyond — your courage and honesty further inspires me. And to my family and friends: I know that the impact on you has been significant.  

I want to thank Darren McLean and Rick Girard, two young players who, showing courage and maturity beyond their years, fought to remove Graham James as a coach to protect current and future players. Thanks also to Dr. Gretchen Kerr and Dr. Sandra Kirby for their continued research that validates that these issues are real and widespread.

Thank you for every voice in this story. It was very important, and I heard every one, whether I wanted to or not. It further drove home the need to put our focus on the 98 per cent of people who are good, and give them tools and confidence to be better.

Stories like these take courage and great diligence. I am grateful for the commitment shown by Jeff Hamilton, the Winnipeg Free Press and all those involved. Reading this has helped me greatly, and I thank you for that.

There are, however, still two questions I would like answered: is Ed Chynoweth a suitable member of the Hockey Hall of Fame? And is it appropriate to have his name attached to the WHL Championship?

To know better is to do better.

Sheldon Kennedy has spent the last 24 years advocating for child protection and has influenced social change in a profound way. He has received extensive recognition for this work, including the Order of Manitoba, the Alberta Order of Excellence and the Order of Canada. Sheldon is the co-founder of Respect Group, a company aimed at empowering people in sport, schools and the workplace to recognize and prevent bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination.