Graham James returns plaque to The Hockey News
This is a guest post from Jeff Hale, who writes the weekly Rundown news feature for MSN.ca News.
In many of the stories leading up to this week’s sentencing of Graham James, the former junior hockey coach who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting his players, the photo that often accompanied them showed James brandishing his award from The Hockey News as the 1989 man of the year. That photo was often alongside stories used on this website.
I was on the staff of The Hockey News then and that photo was a reminder of an event that no matter how well-intentioned at the time, became more unsettling as the horrific extent of James’s crimes were revealed.
It also explains my palpable relief when I found out this week from my former THN colleague and longtime friend Ken Campbell, that James had returned the award.
After James had pleaded guilty this past December to sexually assaulting former NHL star Theo Fleury and his cousin, Todd Holt, when the two were junior hockey players in the 1980s and the 1990s, Ken had written a column revoking the man-of-the-year honour and asking for the return of the award. As Ken notes, it was something of a hollow gesture, coming 15 years after James pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy and another player. But it was still something that needed to be done. “We want to make sure people know James has been deemed unworthy to continue to hold that award,” Ken writes.
The award was given to James for his public stand against violence in hockey, as much a novelty then as it would be today, and for leading the Swift Current Broncos to the Memorial Cup, the junior hockey championship, less than two and a half years after four players died in the crash of the team bus.
That was all fine and good 23 years ago and no one wants to rewrite history now. But it does serve as an example that vigilance, even if it is retroactive, becomes us all. While the photograph, which sits in archives everywhere, can never be reclaimed by The Hockey News, in its small way, the publication has let people know where it stands.