Every single Monday and Wednesday during hockey season, for five years, Graham James pretended to be a passionate, caring junior hockey coach for young boys.
He perpetrated this charade so he’d be able to rape Todd Holt, among others.
I am sorry if that language offends you. What I know from talking with former NHL star Theo Fleury is the reality was much worse than the language for him and his cousin, Holt, who endured this twice-weekly hell.
There is no alleged needed here. James admitted sexually assaulting both for years, his second time being convicted of such grotesque charges. His first included other boys, other days, another hell.
What Tuesday was supposed to bring was an end, a little justice for James and a little peace for his victims.
He was sentenced to two years in prison.
Let that sink in — two bleeping years for sexually assaulting young boys.
There are no words for my level of disgust with the Canadian justice system. It failed those boys, although, that is not its greatest sin. The sentence also sent a horrific message that child molestation is not that bad, only a two-years-in-jail variety crime. There is a linebacker from Northern Illinois, a kid really, who is facing eight years in prison for knocking over an opposing team’s band member. It is a sickening disconnect.
And as James scurried from the courtroom with a red scarf covering his face, looking at possibly as little as five months served, my only solace was for Fleury — whom I admired as a player and have come to know only slightly as a survivor — possibly seeing his efforts to bring awareness to this national shame rewarded. Surely, public outrage about this verdict would be immediate and universal.
Less than six months ago, of course, we were all talking about the devastating impact of sexual abuse and the necessity of not standing idly by. This topic was so important that we, the media, dutifully camped out in State College, Pa., as allegations of sexual abuse by former longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky swirled and raged and eventually brought down with them legendary Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno. We preached need-to-know and moralized about “the kids.”
The JoePalogists said we were just interested because of JoePa, which I quickly dismissed as loyal fans irrationally defending a man who so clearly had sacrificed what was right for what was convenient.
It turns out they were right, at least kind of.
It turns out the outrage with Sandusky and Penn State was not about abuse or the kids after all. It was just the latest scandal, the latest stop for the news trucks to pull up and moralize after Casey Anthony and before Rush Limbaugh. I know this because Tuesday there was barely a peep of outrage about James’ sentence.
“This is not the same, Jen.”
“It happened in Canada.”
“It happened a long time ago.”
This will be the defense. The reality is James is what Sandusky is alleged to be. James molested young boys, including Fleury — a huge name in hockey circles. It is a huge story and speaks to the vulnerability of so many kids and the inability of our justice systems to comprehend the heinousness of the crime, and yet it was barely a blip in America.
This had me thinking about James, Sandusky, the late Paterno and fake outrage.
Sexual abuse is not a tragedy because a big-time coach did not do as much as even he acknowledged he should have to stop said abuse. The sexual abuse of young boys is a tragedy because somehow that quickly turned into a referendum on JoePa and legacy.
He became the tragic figure — a once moralistic man who had undone a lifetime of good with a moment of inaction or a scapegoat for an entire university unwilling to handle a predator among them, depending on your perspective. I, too, was outraged because, in my mind, his football-provided power came with a moral responsibility to speak for those unable to speak for themselves.
What makes the outrage fake, or seemingly insincere, is when we do not follow it through to the end. It is antithetical to say we have learned from the Penn State scandal and be OK with a two-year sentence for James. The two thoughts cannot coexist, the presence of one canceling out the truth of the other.
Because Fleury is right, it sends a message to every molester to keep doing what you are doing because we are not coming after you. It tells them we do not have the stomach for the fight. It says we are not willing to see the fight to its end.
And this matters because the Sandusky trial is scheduled to begin in mid-May. He is declaring his innocence — unlike James — and that fight is just beginning.
On Tuesday, about the time James was getting two years, the judge in the Sandusky trial ordered prosecutors to turn over the phone numbers and addresses of the alleged victims to Sandusky’s lawyers. It is so they can start trying to poke holes in their stories, find anything that slightly discredits the more than 20 young boys alleging Sandusky molested them.
The news trucks will all show up for the show and almost decidedly be outraged. The outrage just rings a little hollow for a guy like Holt, who walked into a living hell every single Monday and Wednesday during hockey season for five years. Because if we were truly outraged, we’d never ever accept two years for a guy like James.