SUN Hockey Pool

Admission 'just the start'

Fleury describes how his ex-coach and convicted sex offender Graham James abused him during his...

Fleury describes how his ex-coach and convicted sex offender Graham James abused him during his time as a junior hockey player. (Sun Media/File)

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:38 PM ET

If anyone knows about the pain Theo Fleury has endured, and the firestorm sure to follow his emotional revelation, it's Sheldon Kennedy.

As former teammates, friends, recovering alcoholics and victims of the same sexually abusive coach, the two, small-town Manitobans share a horrific bond no one -- let alone a child -- should be subjected to.

Yet, even Kennedy has questions.

Unlike Kennedy, who has dedicated his life to paving the way for people like Fleury to face demons by admitting to horrific abuse at the hands of coach Graham James, Theo appears bent on following a different path by declaring he doesn't want to be a poster boy for sexual abuse.

That said, while Kennedy has already reached out to Fleury to offer support, he wants to know if his longtime pal is now going to follow up admissions in his book by pursuing criminal charges against James.

"I'm under the impression someone is obligated to charge Graham again now that there's disclosure," said Kennedy, 40, reacting to news in yesterday's Sun that Fleury's upcoming book details abuse by James, while the two played together as teens in Moose Jaw in 1984.

"We have a written confession this went on and I believe the law states as any adult we have a legal responsibility to bring it forward if they see child abuse. There's going to be a lot of stuff opened up and Theo's going to have to answer that question."

Police officials said yesterday that while there's no statute of limitations on sexual assault, there's nothing they can do unless Fleury files a complaint.

Fleury did not return calls yesterday.

An equally important question revolves around how he could invest in a Calgary Hitmen team years later, knowing dozens of other kids would be put in harm's way with James as coach.

"It really shows the power that abuse has over a person," said Kennedy, who still works with several sport and school officials on abuse prevention.

"Probably the only person I trusted -- and maybe Theo too -- was Graham. What he said went, because of the anvil he held over everyone's head as your coach. He has this secret held over people's head that will pretty much make them do whatever they want. Why do wives that are being beaten keep going back? It's all they know. There's so much fear, guilt and shame and 'let's make sure nobody finds out.' It's chaotic."

Indeed, with the former Flames captain battling drug, alcohol and gambling issues he said were all brought on by the abuse, it's hard to come down hard on Fleury for any decisions. Yet, the questions will be asked.

Well aware Fleury was a James victim, Kennedy isn't surprised by Fleury's admission and wants to back him as he insists it would be impossible to be prepared for the fallout to follow.

"I know how hard it is and I'm concerned for Theo because it takes its toll," said Kennedy, who followed testimony against James that led to a three-and-a-half year jail sentence by rollerblading across Canada to raise money and awareness to battle abuse.

"I think there are going to be a lot of questions asked and I hope he's strong enough in his healing to deal with it."

Kennedy figures his full disclosure coincided with the decline of Fleury's career, even though Fleury denied being a victim at every turn, until now.

"I've hardly ever discussed it with him, but you can see in his career my disclosure bothered him a lot," said Kennedy, alluding to Fleury's stats dropping significantly that season.

"Between us there were never any bad feelings -- I had to (tell the world) for me or I was going to die. I wanted to be the dad I could be."

Fleury's reasons for finally coming clean may differ, but he is to be applauded regardless.

"It's a big step to admit this but it's just the start -- this is the toughest thing he'll ever do," said Kennedy, abused more than 350 times by James.

"My biggest thing is I do care about Theo as a person and I don't care about the other stuff."

The stuff that has the rest of the country itching for more answers.

ERIC.FRANCIS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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