Sheldon Kennedy says he could easily have been another Mike Danton.
Danton, the troubled former member of the St. Louis Blues, is in a U.S. prison, serving a seven-year sentence for attempting to hire a hit-man to kill his former coach and agent, David Frost.
Kennedy says the Danton-Frost story, particularly the strange hold Frost has had over Danton since the player was in his teens, reminds him of his nightmarish experience with Graham James.
And, yes, the thought of having James killed crossed Kennedy's mind, more than once.
"Oh yeah, I was definitely there," Kennedy said. "I could have been (Danton). Mike Danton acted on thoughts. I went inward. It's just sad to me that he's in jail for seven years."
Kennedy says it was "really eerie" watching a recent CBC documentary on the Danton case, and hearing the bluster and bravado coming from Frost.
"It just reminded me of that power that Graham had," he said. "It's almost like a brainwashing."
Kennedy has never spoken to Danton about Frost. But he has talked to players he believes were also abused by James.
"I've talked to a few guys," Kennedy said. "It's up to them to deal with it in their own time, their own ways. But it's pretty sad. A lot of these guys loved the game, and now they don't even play rec hockey because they don't even enjoy going to the rink."
James pleaded guilty in 1997 to more than 300 incidents of abuse against Kennedy and another player who chose to remain anonymous. He was handed a 3 1/2-year prison sentence.
After his release, James landed a job in the Spanish national program.
Kennedy says he'll always respect the other players' privacy, but ...
"I was frustrated when Graham was coaching in Spain that somebody didn't charge him and get him out of there, put him back behind bars," Kennedy said.
The last Kennedy heard, his abuser was living in Montreal, although James is banned for life from coaching in Canada.
Kennedy describes how James chose his victims:
Graham was very good at picking out his victims. He would feel them out first, looking for weaknesses and insecurities before he made a sexual move on them ... looking for boys who didn't have a very solid home, boys whose fathers were angry and had drinking problems. Kids with single moms were on the top of his list of potential victims.
He wanted to find boys who needed a father figure in their lives, boys who were confused and unsure of their masculinity and needed a man they could trust and confide in. When he found someone in that situation, he swept into their lives like Superman. But what the parents didn't know was that Superman was planning to take their sons into a very dark dungeon and that their sons might never make it out of that dungeon.
Kennedy talks about the first time James abused him. He was 14 at the time:
I was almost asleep when I heard Graham crawling around near the end of the cot. He started rubbing my feet, telling me that a foot rub was the best thing for the body after a hard day. I felt very uncomfortable but let him do it for awhile. Eventually, I couldn't take it anymore and pushed him away ...
I thought that would be the end of it. It was just the beginning. I heard Graham moving around in the dark on the other side of the room ... he opened a closet door and seemed to pick up a heavy object. There was more movement as he made his way back to his bed, and then he flicked on the lights.
When I opened my eyes in the sudden brightness, I saw Graham sitting in bed cradling a shotgun. He was smiling, but it wasn't a smile I'd ever seen before. He looked crazed. His eyes were almost glowing in his head. He was out of his head, but I'd never seen him looking so sure of himself and what he was doing ...
He knew the effect the gun would have on me. I was alone in a strange place with a strange man who held the keys to the world that I had wanted to be part of since I was a little kid. He was a man who'd I'd been told to look up to and obey. He knew all of this, and he knew he could use his authority and my fear and ignorance to get me to do something that I didn't understand and didn't want to be a part of ...
When I resisted, he went away to get his next weapon, and when he turned on the light, he showed me what would happen if I didn't co-operate.
James continued to prey upon Kennedy, even in the unlikeliest of places:
Later, after he became my coach, Graham even came out to the farm with me on a few occasions. My parents didn't seem to think it was strange that he asked to sleep in the finished basement where I slept in one of the spare beds. In the middle of the night, he could come for me as he had in his Winnipeg apartment. He would abuse me while I lay there pretending that I was knocked out or asleep or somewhere else.
The next day, he sat down to breakfast with my family, acting as if everything was normal. I was in total shock. If Graham could get away with this in my own house, with my parents sleeping upstairs, then there was nothing he couldn't do to me.