Ramifications of Fleury's long silence on abuse

Eric Francis, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 PM ET

No one would blame Ray Schultz if the former Calgary Hitmen defenceman was furious with Theo Fleury.

After all, it was Fleury who knowingly put Schultz and all his Hitmen teammates in harm’s way 15 years ago when the upstart junior franchise Fleury co-owned was led by Graham James.

However, while the 32-year-old real estate broker admits how naďve and potentially vulnerable he was as an 18-year-old coached by James, he holds no ill will towards Fleury.

“It’s so hard to put myself in the head of someone who has been abused,” said Schultz of Fleury’s published admission he’d been a sexual abuse victim of coach James.

“To me it’s the rational mind trying to figure out the irrational mind. I think all of those problems stem from that happening and I don’t think people think straight.”

Schultz considers himself fortunate he wasn’t victimized by James and insists he saw no evidence anyone else was being abused during James’ one season in Calgary, 1995-96.

However, one year later, after Schultz was traded and James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail for abusing Sheldon Kennedy and another player, he realized through the eyes of a counselor the signs were all there.

“I don’t think (anyone on his team was abused) but I think the groundwork was being laid,” said Schultz of a chilling realization he had as a 19-year-old.

“After I got traded to Kelowna a guy came through to talk to us and all the signs were there, but I didn’t recognize it until after the fact. I don’t think anything happened but it would have been a matter of time.”

Especially given how naďve he and most of his young teammates were.

“I didn’t even know what a pedophile was when I went to the Hitmen — I didn’t find out until after,” said the Edmonton native and former captain, who later became the first Hitmen player to play in the NHL.

“Kids are pretty naďve and I don’t know how many parents have that sort of conversation.”

Thanks to Kennedy’s brave testimony and subsequent dedication to preventing abuse, it’s a discussion Canadian junior clubs insist on nowadays.

Kennedy said a big part of the reason he finally decided to defy years of guilt and shame and go to police stemmed from walking out of the Flames dressing room and seeing James with his “harem” of players down the hall.

By stepping forward in the fall of 1996, Kennedy very likely prevented some of those players from falling prey to James.

“If it was to happen to me at a young, impressionable age of anywhere between 14 and 20, I don’t think I would’ve said anything — I would’ve been embarrassed and full of shame,” said Schultz, showing tremendous compassion for the plight of victims like Kennedy and Fleury, who went years without telling a soul.

“It’s a male-dominated world and we’re expected to be tough in every way.”

Fortunately for Schultz, he was one of the Western Hockey League’s toughest hombres at the time, racking up 282 penalty minutes in 66 games.

It may have helped ensure a potential predator would steer clear.

Kennedy was 14 when James first started molesting him, and Fleury makes a similar claim.

Two other future NHLers on Schultz’s team were Brad Moran and Jerred Smithson, who were both 16.

There have long been those who suggest people in authority knew or suspected James of improprieties. Others figure there are also victims who played for James in Calgary.

“I think another factor that plays into all this is the business side,” said Schultz, who retired three years ago following a career that saw him play 45 games with the Islanders.

“People might have known but the almighty dollar says it all and you turn a blind eye.”

Something the hockey world vows never to do again.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca


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