Hockey's sexual predator returns as coach
Graham James lands job in Spain
By ALLAN MAKI
Thursday, April 26, 2001
CALGARY -- The man who shook Canadian hockey to its core by committing more than 350 sexual acts on two teenaged players is back in the game and once again coaching.
Graham James, sentenced in 1997 to 3½ years in prison for abusing Sheldon Kennedy and another unnamed junior player, has been coaching in Spain for several months.
He was the assistant coach for the Spanish national team that recently placed second at the World C hockey championship in Majadahonda, Spain. The youngest player on the Spanish team just turned 19.
Mr. James, 49, also works as an instructor for coaches in the Spanish hockey system, where sources say he has no contact with players under the age of 18.
Efforts to contact Mr. James yesterday were unsuccessful.
His conviction shocked the country and prompted a Canadian hockey League review of the sport. The review was designed to protect players from abusive adults and to screen coaches and volunteers involved in minor hockey, which is where Mr. James got his start as a coach.
Mr. Kennedy, a junior-hockey star whose National hockey League career was hindered by personal problems that he said resulted from the abuse he suffered, was stunned to hear that Mr. James had resurfaced as a coach.
He said from Calgary that he'd like to know how a convicted sexual predator could be allowed to leave Canada and coach in another country.
"I know guys with minor felonies on the substance side of things and they have a problem getting into the U.S.," Mr. Kennedy said.
"I don't have a clue how this could happen, but obviously it's a wake-up call for us as a society. Whether he's coaching kids or not, he's in a position of authority. He's with a national team and you can't tell me there aren't younger kids in the program.
"That's unbelievable. It blows my mind."
Canadian hockey Association president Bob Nicholson said he was told on Jan. 12 that Mr. James was coaching overseas and that he called the International Ice hockey Federation office in Switzerland to learn if that was true.
"I did call the IIHF and told them I'd heard -- nothing for sure -- that Graham James was either coaching in Portugal or Spain. They told me that they were inquiring. They said they'd get calls out to Portugal and Spain," said Mr. Nicholson. "But nothing came back to me."
A source with the IIHF said the governing body knew "sometime in February" that Spain was interested in hiring Mr. James but admitted nothing more was said and no follow-ups were made.
Mr. James is banned for life from coaching in Canada. News that he was coaching again did not sit well with Murray Costello, an IIHF council member who planned to raise the issue of Mr. James's hiring at the next IIHF congress.
"I will inquire and when they ask me why I'm inquiring I will feel obliged to tell them. I would feel more guilty not telling them," Mr. Costello said.
A spokesman for the National Parole Board said Mr. James was granted day parole in October, 1998, and that he completed his sentence last July. Having done so, Mr. James was then eligible to leave the country.
Mr. James was coach and general manager of the Western hockey League's Swift Current Broncos when he sexually abused Mr. Kennedy and the other player. Mr. Kennedy and the unidentified player filed criminal charges against Mr. James, who pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault between 1984 and 1994.
Mr. Kennedy went public with his story in 1997. That same year he played his final NHL game as a member of the Boston Bruins.
He attended Mr. James's parole hearing in Winnipeg and was not impressed by what he heard.
"He had no acceptance of what he'd done. I was waiting for the day that he'd get caught again. Was I waiting for the day he'd be back in hockey as a coach? No, I didn't prepare myself for that," Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. James's other victim is still waiting for a development in his legal action against the Broncos, the WHL, CHA and 16 other defendants. The player and his parents have filed separate suits seeking an undisclosed amount of money in damages as well as a public accountability. The suit is in pretrial stage with no trail date set.
Mr. James was named head scout of the WHL's Winnipeg Warriors in 1984 and became head coach and general manager when the team relocated to Moose Jaw later that year. The Broncos hired Mr. James in 1986 and his eight seasons in Swift Current were filled with incredible tragedies (the 1986 bus crash that killed four players) and triumphs (the 1989 Memorial Cup championship).
After Mr. James left Swift Current for Calgary, where he was named coach and GM of the Hitmen, a police investigation began into allegations of sexual misconduct. According to several Swift Current players, Mr. James paid players to allow him to videotape them having sex with women. There were also allegations that players were denied counselling after the 1986 bus crash because Mr. James's secret would have been discovered.
In September of 1996, Calgary police confirmed they were looking into Mr. James's past. Five months later, Mr. James stood in a Calgary courtroom and read from a prepared statement. He apologized for his actions, adding, "I offer no excuses . . . The fault is mine alone."