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The Coaches' Report

The Sheldon Kennedy/Graham James Case:
Sexual Abuse in Canadian Junior Hockey


Sheldon Kennedy was coached by Graham James, a highly respected and nationally famous coach, as a junior-level hockey player in Winnipeg, and then during the late 1980s on the Swift Current Broncos of Canada's Western Hockey League. Between the ages of 14 and 19, Kennedy was sexually abused by James. The abuse went on, twice weekly, between 1984 and 1990.

"Kennedy testified he was first abused when he received permission from his parents to spend the weekend at James' house to discuss his future in hockey." (Knight-Ridder, 1/9/97)

"Kennedy has said that James sexually assaulted him more than 350 times, beginning when Kennedy was 14. He said he was assaulted while playing on several clubs with which James had an affiliation." (Knight-Ridder Newspapers, 1/9/97)

Kennedy said: "The coach is so respected. Your parents send you away and say, 'Do what he says.' At that age, you listen. That's your first step if you want to play pro." (Ottawa Citizen, 1/9/97)

"Kennedy describes his life as a lonely, living hell. He was sexually abused as a teen by Graham James, his coach and "father figure," who controlled his hockey career and his daily life from the time he was 14 to 19. Kennedy found he was unable to make friends. Unable to trust and unable to love. Unable to feel "normal" unless he was drinking. Unable to turn a junior career into a solid National Hockey League career. Suicidal at times because inner turmoil haunted him. "You feel people are looking at you. I put up a shield. I didn't let anybody in. It's a very lonely way to feel. You never feel normal. You know something is wrong but you don't know why it is like that,' Kennedy said." (Calgary Herald, 1/7/97)

A friend of Kennedy's said: "The coach is a godlike figure -- he holds all the cards. I guess in a situation like [Kennedy's] a kid can go home, but that is the end of your hockey career. That is the problem. There is no way to turn." (Washington Post, 1/8/97)

"He was 14 or 15 and James was 31 or 32 when the assaults began. Every Tuesday and Thursday for six years, Kennedy went to James' house. Kennedy said, 'He considered me his wife. There was absolutely nowhere for me to turn. I had no one, nobody.'" (Los Angeles Times, 1/7/97)

"When Kennedy was 15 he told James a lie - that he had been abused by a teacher - in the hopes that James would stop the molestation. 'He didn't even blink an eye,' said Kennedy. 'He kept me with him all the time. It was like we were married. It was unbelievable.'" (Calgary Herald, 1/7/97)

"Kennedy said if James was fired from one team and started coaching another he would 'keep trading for me.'" (Toronto Sun, 5/9/97)

"'You do not have a clue what to do," Kennedy said. "You tell your mom and she makes you come home. You tell your friends and they will just portray you as a gay guy. It is just a very scary thing.'" (Detroit News, 1/7/97)

"Kennedy...said he considered suicide several times." (Tampa Tribune, 1/11/97)

Eventually, Kennedy left the Broncos and began playing for the Calgary Flames, and later the Boston Bruins.

Circa 1995, Kennedy finally told his wife about the abuse. "Many in hockey -- including his Bruins teammates -- knew of his situation but kept quiet at Kennedy's request until he felt comfortable talking about the subject. 'It's difficult to discuss with anybody," Kennedy said. "It was difficult to discuss with my mom, dad, sister and brother. I went 13 years without discussing it with anybody.'" (Knight-Ridder, 1/9/97)

Kennedy came forward on Sept. 3, 1996, taking his complaints of sexual abuse by James to Calgary city police.

In January 1997, Graham James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for sexually assaulting Kennedy and another unidentified player.

Sheldon Kennedy went public with his story after the sentencing.

"James pleaded guilty to the offences and admitted in a statement read to the court that; 'I offer no excuses. I blame nobody but myself. I was selfish.' But he added: "I am truly sorry that this happened.'" (Calgary Herald, 1/7/97)

James also later recounted, in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, that he felt surprised and betrayed by Kennedy's coming forward. "Did I expect Sheldon Kennedy to do this? Absolutely not. Sheldon and I were close...He legitimately cared. Not about (the sex), obviously. He cared. He knew I was lonely, and you know, that sort of registered as desperation. He cared enough to put up with limited things...I didn't think, at the time, that this was something that was bothering Sheldon. It wasn't that Sheldon was gay -- he's not gay. It wasn't that he enjoyed it -- he didn't. Maybe I'm just trying to legitimize things myself, but at no time did I think it was a major thing for him." (Ottawa Citizen, 1/8/97)

Kennedy: "I feel like I am 10 months old inside a 27-year-old body. You are learning to live again. You are learning to have friends. You have to learn to love and relax. ... I can't remember the last time I relaxed totally." (Tampa Tribune, 1/7/97)

In 1998, Kennedy enrolled in a substance-abuse program sponsored by the NHL, for continuing drinking and drug problems.

In January 1999, an unidentified hockey player, who also played on the Swift Current Broncos under Graham James, filed a $650,000 lawsuit against 24 individuals and organizations who allegedly knew, or should have known, that James sexually assaulted some of his players, including him. Among the groups sued were the Western Hockey League and its parent group, the Canadian Hockey League, as well as the Swift Current Broncos and the Sasketchewan Amateur Hockey Association. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1/17/99)

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