Graham James sentencing spurs flashbacks for Theo Fleury

Former NHL star Theo Fleury says the sentencing of his former coach for sex crimes pushed him to the edge.

Ex-NHLer says it was tougher than expected to see sex-abuser's face everywhere

Theoren Fleury speaks to reporters in Winnipeg on March 22, two days after Graham James, his former hockey coach, was sentenced for sexually assaulting Fleury and Todd Holt during their junior hockey years. (CBC)

Former hockey star Theo Fleury says the sentencing of the former coach who sexually abused him as a teenager pushed him to the edge as he was forced to see the face of the man everywhere.

Although he didn't mention Graham James by name, Fleury wrote on his blog Thursday that the past few months have been much tougher than he anticipated.

"Not many people have to see the face of their rapist in every newspaper, on thousands of websites, next to photos of their own in several publications, and on blogs all over the place," he wrote.

"Not many people have to give public interviews and answer questions about their rapists for weeks on end. I have. And I thought I was powering through it, that it wasn't affecting me all that much. I was wrong."

James was sentenced last month in Winnipeg to two years in prison for hundreds of sexual assaults on two of his teenage players, Fleury and his cousin, Todd Holt.

Did not attend court hearings

Fleury did not attend the lengthy sentencing hearing in which James apologized to everyone from the Canadian hockey community to his victims.

He also wasn't in the courtroom when James learned his fate — a sentence which sparked national outrage — but posted a statement on his website with his cousin calling the sentence "nothing short of a national travesty."

"I began to have flashbacks; I began to seek comfort with a few people who didn't have my best interests at heart," Fleury wrote.

"Thankfully I've recognized this was happening before anything bad happened, and I'm recommitting myself along with my family, to seeking professional help with a very understanding and knowledgeable counsellor."

Fleury stressed, "there are those who now believe I’ve suffered a relapse, so let me be clear: I have not suffered a relapse."

Last month, Fleury said he had no interest in being in the same courtroom as James. He said he had moved on with his life and had no interest in going backwards.

Now, Fleury said, he is going to concentrate on continuing to heal.

'I struggle like you do'

"I'm not perfect, no one is, so I want to be sure to let you all know that I struggle like you do, I face what you do, and I'm committed to never ending my quest for healing," he wrote.

"I share this in a public way with you because, as I've long said, you're only as sick as your secrets, and I don't want to have any more secrets. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, and although I've stumbled along the way, I know that with your help we can change the world for victims of sexual abuse."

James pleaded guilty in December to repeatedly sexually abusing Fleury and Holt when they played for him in the Western Hockey League in the 1980s and '90s.

James previously served about 18 months of a 3½-year sentence in 1997 for molesting former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and two other players before he got out of jail in 2000 and dropped out of public view.

While James' lawyer said his client got a fair hearing, Manitoba prosecutors are reviewing the sentence to see if there are grounds for an appeal.

Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has urged Manitoba to examine the case carefully and provincial Progressive Conservatives are also calling on the Crown to appeal.


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Theo Fleury, who has struggled with drug addiction, had suggested he had suffered a relapse. In a followup message on his blog Fleury stated that he has sought expert help and counselling, but has not suffered a relapse.
    Apr 04, 2012 10:18 PM CT

With files from CBC News