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How Convicted Sex Offender Graham James Trapped Me

Few people in junior hockey were as powerful as coach Graham James. It was a power he abused in horrific fashion.

by Greg Gilhooly
Mar 5 2018, 3:55pm

Greg Gilhooly  | All Images courtesy of author. 

Greg Gilhooly was a 14-year-old hockey prospect in Winnipeg when he met Graham James, the now-infamous junior hockey coach who sexually assaulted numerous teenage boys, including future NHLers Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury. While James went to prison for his assaults on Kennedy and Fleury, many of victims would not find justice in court, including Gilhooly. Now a lawyer living in Ontario, Gilhooly has written a new book, I am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole My Life , about his experience and recovery, in which he argues that the Canadian legal system fails victims of sexual assault. In the following excerpt, Gilhooly writes about how James trapped him in an sexually abusive and exploitative situation. Warning: the following contains details that may be upsetting to some readers.

I went back to him—and hated myself for it. Part of me knew I should run away from him, but the rest of me knew I needed to go back and stay with him because my dreams depended on him. I couldn’t run away, because I was locked inside a reality established and controlled by him. I had no ability to step back and rationally assess the situation.

St. James Midget Canadians 1980-81, me front left, in the midst of the worst, but always with a smile for others to see.

Why couldn’t I run? Why couldn’t I just end it? The one truly at risk if our secret ever came out wasn’t me but Graham. He was the adult, he was the teacher, he was the hockey coach, he had everything to lose. It should have been easy for me to tell somebody what had happened, right? It should have been a no-brainer to go to my parents, to a teacher, to my coaches, to anybody, and let somebody know what Graham had done, right?

Wrong. Wrong not because it is wrong, but wrong because I couldn’t even conceive of a world where Graham was at risk for anything, where reality was never anything but what he was telling me it was. I just couldn’t. I saw him as having the power and me as having none, because that’s the way it was. I was alone, I was stuck, and I could see no way out. And so several weeks later, after he contacted me again, I went back to him.

1980, when it was at its worst.

I walked to meet him in a trance, numb, constantly asking myself whether or not I should keep going. I walked with my head down, looking only at my white athletic shoes with red striping (the brand of shoes is lost in the ether of memories long gone, though for some reason the red against aged white remains clear). I didn’t want to see anything or be seen by anybody. I fell into myself, a hulking young man slowly, inevitably retreating as much as possible into nothingness. I barely noticed where I was or what I was doing. I was almost run over by a car, unaware that it was barreling toward me until its horn briefly startled me out of my self-interrogation. I kept asking myself the same questions, over and over again:

Whose feet are these?

Why can’t I control where I go and what I do?

I promised myself that I would ask him to explain what was going on and what he had meant by everything he had said the last time. I convinced myself that I had to see him again so we could talk things through together so he could see that he was doing something that he liked but that I didn’t. I told myself that he would see things from my perspective, that he would understand that if he wanted me to succeed, it could never happen again. By the time I met him, the easily won debating points I had secured when facing only myself in my own head fell away in his presence. So did any resolve I had been able to arm myself with. But it didn’t seem to matter. He acted as if nothing had happened, and for a few brief moments I was able to make myself believe that maybe what had happened before was an aberration, something that would never happen again.

But I was wrong.

Age 16, receiving Winnipeg scholar-athlete award, 1980.

He started by breaking me down mentally. I was too afraid to stand up to him. He said that I needed his help to succeed and that I would risk losing everything if anybody found out what he was doing for me. Just like that I was back to being a puppy dog, an athletic giant, but ultimately nothing more than a toy he was playing with. This time he was less tentative, more confident, and more aggressive. This time I was less surprised but more terrified of him because of what he was doing, more terrified of myself for simply being there in the first place. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I felt total and complete shame for being there, for letting it happen to me.

You stupid, stupid boy. You’re pathetic. You knew this was going to happen. You knew it all along. Big talker, all the things you were going to say to him. What, he’s got some magical control over your mouth? You can’t even speak now? You must like this, you must want this. How awful are you that you would go through this just because he wants this? How weak are you? This is you. This is who you are. He knows it. Now you know it too. He’s the only one who understands you. He knows you better than everybody else. He knows the truth. Stop pretending you’re anything else.

High school yearbook picture in 1980-81 and my High school graduation in 1981-82.

Afterward he was, as before, calming, seemingly understanding, even nurturing in positioning himself not just as a hockey mentor but also as a life mentor who understood who I really was. I hadn’t done anything I had planned to do. I hadn’t stood up to him. I hadn’t asked him to explain. I hadn’t tried to get him to see that this wasn’t what I wanted. No, in his presence I believed everything that he said about me. I couldn’t wait to leave, yet as I was leaving, I also knew I would come back. I knew that he had me. I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to get away from him, even though getting away was as simple as walking through the door and never coming back. I just knew.

I have zero memory of taking the bus and walking home that night. I have zero memory of anything that followed other than that I cried so hard into the afghan blanket that covered my waterbed in my basement bedroom that I didn’t notice until the next morning that I had heaved so heavily that part of it was covered in vomit. Fortunately, Renaissance Man that I was, I was able to do my own laundry as the washer and dryer were in the basement next to my bedroom, and nobody in the house was any the wiser.

An attack followed up with complete capitulation. In these two meetings the template for our “relationship”—for lack of a better word—had been defined. My “mentor” had me in his grasp, he was never going to let go, and I knew it.

Excerpted from I Am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole My Life by Greg Gilhooly, published March 2018 by Greystone Books. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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