Warriors had nickname for James

DOUG LUNNEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:32 AM ET

My Winnipeg Warrior teammates referred to him as Coach Queer.

That was in 1983, but it wasn't until more than a decade later -- after Sheldon Kennedy stepped forward with his then-unproven allegations of abuse against Graham James -- that I realized where the nickname originated.

James was listed as a scout with the WHL's Warriors when I joined the team several games into the season, but he was often on the ice at practice and accompanied the team on several road trips.

The veterans viewed him as the ultimate wannabe, a hanger-on. But he was supposed to be a great mentor to the younger players, a substitute teacher who could help them advance from minor hockey to the major junior ranks.

I recall a story one rookie quietly told me on a long bus trip. He was alone with James in his apartment, being tutored, when James claimed he was too tired to drive him home and suggested he stay the night.

The player called his mom, who quickly came to pick him up. The player was understandably freaked out when he told me this story. I can only imagine how he felt years later when James was charged and he'd realized the bullet he dodged.

After all, this was the period when James was thriving as a sexual predator, preying on the young players over which he'd had great influence.

The Warriors were sold to Moose Jaw during the season and the players were stunned to learn James would be the club's next head coach. Every single player older than 16 on the club was either traded or released.

James wasn't the team's manager, but the older players figured he had influenced the people in Moose Jaw to get rid of all the veterans so they wouldn't poison any of the younger guys against him.

I've never known Terry Simpson to be prone to fits of laughter, but he must have had a hearty chuckle when -- as coach and GM of the Prince Albert Raiders -- he fleeced the Warriors of Tony Grenier, Dean Braham and Brad Bennett. The three players deemed expendable by Moose Jaw went on to help Simpson's Raiders win the Memorial Cup the next season.

As Wednesday's news of more players stepping forward and additional sexual assault charges came to light, I thought of Kennedy.

I remembered in September 1996 -- before any of this horror came to light -- getting the call at the Winnipeg Sun sports desk from a friend of mine, a former teammate who was then an NHL scout. He told me the real reason James was stepping down as head coach of the Calgary Hitmen was because Kennedy was going public with his allegations of sexual abuse against James.

My friend asked if we'd heard any rumblings of this in the media. I was blown away.

I started phoning some of Kennedy's former teammates with the Winnipeg South Blues.

"Sheldon is (screwed) in the head,'' I recall one of them saying, refusing to believe a word of it.

Even after Kennedy was proven right, it's taken so many years -- and a book from Theoren Fleury -- to bring more victims forward.

Some people think it's unjust that James isn't still in jail and is instead in Mexico.

But if Sheldon Kennedy didn't have the courage to be the first to step forward, it could be a lot worse, as Graham James could still be in a junior hockey dressing room somewhere in Canada.


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