Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Graham James and rethinking trust in sportsAnyone thinking  there could never be another Graham James today  is sorely mistaken. There's already been a Jerry Sandusky.

To many, any mention of Graham James in the media is simply piling on to an already beyond sick story. It's almost a reflex to write that there's nothing to be learned from this, since all the safeguards and background checks and Speak Out! programs in the world will not catch every twisted person.

One has to beg to differ, though. The common thread that runs through the James saga, along with the unfolding horror at Penn State, is that this shows the dark side of how the power and privilege conferred on coaches in sports can be exploited.

Almost all  youth coaches rate better than what the Toronto Star's Cathal Kelly today called "a corrosive suspicion of the many good-hearted people who want to teach kids how to skate or tackle or dribble." But parents with sports-minded children need to think hard about the concept of trust.

It's fair to say that sometimes it's just assumed the coach knows how to act properly around young people. There is a false sense of security, or maybe it's just laziness: he's got the certification, he's been checked out, what could possibly go wrong? That could be called the indifference problem. That said, a parent can still do the due diligence and not get any red flags. At another point on the spectrum is also the fear factor. The Neepawa Natives hazing scandal earlier this year shows how much organized sports can be about the wielding of control within a group dynamic. No one can be allowed to upset the herd.

That hasn't changed much since the 1970s and '80s when Graham James preyed on teenage hockey players. It applied to why Sandusky wasn't stopped until 2011, although that was more about Penn State not wanting to hurt its football operation. But even today hockey parents can be afraid to get all the information for fear of having the "parent from hell" label affixed to their son or daughter.

That gets to the nature of how we think about coaches. It's probably too idealistic to say this about major junior hockey, but in less competitive and/or younger age groups, shouldn't it be about teaching? Both James and Sandusky show how people will take accomplishments as proof of character seven days a week. It can't just be about winning the next game or tournament.

James got away with what he did and built the profile he had because he was successful in the Western Hockey League, even though his tactics were controversial even at the time. Jerry Sandusky could not have built his Second Mile Foundation if he had been a lowly, bounce-from-school-to-school assistant coach instead of being the defensive coordinator to Joe Paterno at Penn State, which in Happy Valley, Pa., is like sitting at the right hand of God.

And you say there's no lesson? To the contrary, it shows how that level of authority will have to be toned down. Here's hoping Sheldon Kennedy will say that when he appears before a U.S. Senate committee in the days to come. The psychological power an abuser can have over his victims can last forever, as Kelly noted.

Everybody involved lost and will continue losing forever. Some crimes spiral out eternally. Vindication is a paltry thing measured against a lifetime of remembering. (Toronto Star)

One can never know what it's like to be a sex abuse victim or why someone comes forward. The explanation James' victim, Greg Gilhooly (goalie on right in photo), gave for his insistence on going public was striking. Gilhooly is a hero for doing that; he should get a medal.

"I'm at a point now where I am not prepared to live a life where Graham has any power over me any more." (The Canadian Press)

It lasts forever. In order to try to keep this from happening forever, priorities are going to have to change in sports. Perhaps the sports world is just a little behind the curve with speaking truth to power, as we've seen recently with the Arab spring or Occupy Wall Street or Attawapiskat.

The smarter people in hockey, the ones who believe in what they're doing, have probably figured this out already. They're the ones who let parents in how it works. They don't pump starry-eyed youngsters full of grandiose visions. That's good, because that has sometimes proven to blind everyone to what's really going on.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).

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