CALGARY – If Theo Fleury decides to pursue criminal charges against former junior hockey coach Graham James, Sheldon Kennedy will be in his former teammate’s corner.
Kennedy says he is willing to testify on behalf Fleury, who alleges in his autobiography “Playing With Fire” that he was abused by James starting when he was a 14-year-old in Winnipeg.
“To me it would be supporting Theoren and I’m willing to do that,” Kennedy told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
James was convicted in January 1997 of more than 350 incidents of sexual abuse involving Kennedy and an unidentified Swift Current teammate, and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
Fleury had remained silent on the issue until the release of his book last month. Earlier this week, he told the New York Post he had hired a lawyer and was ready to face James in court.
“I was not psychologically prepared to come forward then, I was not strong enough,” Fleury told the Post. “But I am now, and I will do whatever it takes, no matter what the repercussions might be.
“I will follow my attorney’s instructions as we go forward, but I am prepared to testify in court under oath if that becomes necessary. I will do whatever it takes.”
Fleury’s publicist says there has been no final decision on whether any legal action will be taken against James.
“The legal team led by Calgary based lawyer, Hersh Wolch, is working diligently through all the necessary steps and will advise Theoren Fleury on the situation in the weeks ahead,” said Angie Lamirande. “Whether or not Fleury will press charges or if a lawsuit will be filed is still not as simple as a yes or no answer and the decision does not lie solely on the shoulders of Fleury.”
But Kennedy doesn’t understand why there would be any delay in laying charges if that’s ultimately what Fleury wants to do.
“Why wouldn’t he be able to lay charges?,” the 40-year-old Kennedy said. “Theoren’s done this (accused James of assault in his book) and it’s no different filing a complaint than what he’s done in front of every press conference he’s held here in the last couple of months.”
As far as Kennedy is concerned, the move is long overdue.
“I think it’s so important, especially being in the public eye and promoting others to come forward, that we do the right thing ourselves,” said Kennedy. “I think it’s a moral obligation to charge somebody who has allegedly ruined your life.”
James has not commented publicly on Fleury’s allegations since the hockey player’s account hit the headlines.
Police officials in Calgary could not confirm whether they are investigating the allegations.
“It’s a really difficult one for us because we can’t identify and talk about anyone who is under investigation or identify a victim of crime even if a victim is talking about it,” explained police spokesman Michael Nunn. “We wouldn’t be able to confirm if he’s made an official complaint.”
Wolch didn’t immediately return a phone message Wednesday.
Kennedy, who was also a teammate of Fleury’s on the Calgary Flames, has dedicated his life to speaking out about sexual abuse and was recently elected to the board of the Canadian Society for the Investigation of Child Abuse.
He said the James ordeal robbed him of his love of the game and he has been worried about Fleury.
“I’ve stated before that I was concerned about Theoren in this whole process and for me its been 13 years and I have taken an honest look at everything and owned it and accepted the fact that was my life,” said Kennedy.