The life and destructive legacy of Graham James
Graham James was last seen in a courtroom in the summer of 2015.
Appearing via video link from a Quebec prison, the disgraced junior hockey coach pleaded guilty in a Swift Current courtroom to sexual assault on one of his players during the early 1990s, and was sentenced to two additional years behind bars.
But that was not the end of the serial sex abuser’s saga; it was just one more chapter in his sordid life story.
While a significant number of the assaults occurred in Saskatchewan, where he coached both the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos, the James scandal has always been a Winnipeg story.
James worked his way up through the ranks here — in Winnipeg minor hockey, the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and the WHL’s Winnipeg Warriors.
It was with this backdrop that Free Press sports writer Jeff Hamilton began investigating James’ past, from his formative years growing up as an Air Force brat in St. James to his time as a substitute teacher in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division, and from his first foray into coaching minor hockey to his ultimate downfall.
Hamilton interviewed dozens of former players, childhood friends, educators and hockey colleagues and officials.
His investigation reveals an awkward teen who found confidence both in the classroom and at the rink, one that enabled him to embark on his trail of destructive criminal behaviour.
The investigation also paints a picture of complicity or, at the very least, wilful ignorance through all levels of the sport, which allowed James to abuse young players for years.
In total, James has been convicted of sexually assaulting five former players: Sheldon Kennedy, Theoren Fleury and Todd Holt have all publicly shared their ordeals; the identities of two others have been protected by publication bans.
However, police estimate the true number of victims is between 25 and 100.
While powerful institutions, such as the Catholic Church, and prominent individuals, including Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, have all had their moments of reckoning, there has been no equivalent to the #MeToo movement in hockey.
This Free Press investigation attempts to change that narrative by giving voice to victims and asking questions of those who knew or ought to have known what was happening on their watch.
Each of the series' six chapters will appear here as they are published.
Jay Macaulay was trying to crack the WHL Broncos’ lineup in 1988; instead he became one more of Graham James’ victims
Posted: 11/12/2020 12:00 PM
It’s a warm late-August afternoon and Jay Macaulay is sitting in the empty lobby of Winnipeg’s train station fidgeting with a pen.
He just finished putting a check mark in his day planner, indicating another successfully finished workshop he’s required to attend each week as part of his parole conditions.
Former friends, teammates of Graham James recall odd behaviour, but nothing to portend depravity to come
Posted: 14/12/2020 12:00 PM
It was midway through Sheldon Kennedy’s seventh NHL season, and the Calgary newspapers were calling for his head.
After discovering Kennedy had collapsed into tears and was unable to suit up for the Calgary Flames’ April 8, 1996 game against the Edmonton Oilers, they published stories he had suffered a nervous breakdown.
Graham James wasn't the only predator teaching at Silver Heights Collegiate
Posted: 15/12/2020 12:00 PM
IT’S an image that came to haunt Ivano Buccini.
The longtime teacher at Silver Heights Collegiate recalled being impressed in the early 1980s after watching Graham James help a young hockey player with his homework in a classroom.
Players describe an unravelling Broncos dressing room, reveal emotional scars decades later
Posted: 16/12/2020 12:00 PM
Graham James preyed on vulnerable, emotionally fragile boys desperate to play pro hockey; he manipulated them into believing he cared about them, so they would return the favour.
Despite suspicion, the hockey community failed to protect the players Graham James was abusing
Posted: 17/12/2020 12:00 PM
Despite opponents' homophobic taunts on the ice and suspicions off it, no one in Manitoba's or Western Canada's hockey community did anything to protect the young players Graham James was sexually abusing. Several decades later, most still won't talk about what they knew about the predator behind the bench.
In the aftermath of Graham James, sports officials have long promised changes — but observers wonder where they are
Posted: 18/12/2020 12:00 PM
Former junior hockey players' lawsuit, supporting affidavits detail unimaginable sexual, emotional abuse from veteran teammates in team-condoned hazing rituals; critics say resistant sport officials have long turned a blind eye to the rot in their organizations.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.