Around nine months ago, the Winnipeg Free Press wrote a series of stories that they called A Stain on Our Game. The series covered one serial sexual abuser in hockey: Graham James. Most people know of James because he has been put in jail for his crimes. Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury spoke out about their abuse at his hands. He was eventually sent to jail. But there is an unspoken about connection to James in the NHL today. It is not a player who survived him or one who was coached by him like Joe Sakic. No, it is Craig Heisinger.
Heisinger’s knowledge of such incidences has been probed by the Winnipeg Free Press. They also asked him about the knowledge of hazing rituals with the Winnipeg Warriors. Heisinger has been evasive about his past in regards to his connections to James and the harm that was caused to the players that James had access to. In fact, there is one comment from 2011 that was made by Heisinger about James and it is not exactly a condemnation for his serial abuse of players: “I don’t want to condone any of the s–t Graham did — he crossed the line in a million different ways. But there were some people he gave opportunity to, and I was one of them.” (source)
Again, in 2012 the Free Press talked to Heisinger again to start probing into Graham James and did get Heisinger on the record. Again, his comment leaves you wanting a lot more from him: ”You can save your breath. I’m not going to say anything about it. I’m not saying nothing. No comment. I’m not commenting on the Graham James situation. I’ve got nothing to say.”
Why am I rehashing the commentary from Steve Lyon? Because it lays out a massive issue with the Winnipeg Jets: they have been unwilling to look into a long connection between James and Heisinger including Heisinger being a part owner of the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL when James was hired by them. At the very least Heisinger should be willing to denounce James with the heat of a thousand suns. He is a known serial abuser who used his position of power to prey on vulnerable young men. He was and is a sick man. It shouldn’t be hard to denounce that.
Which brings me to the other dark cloud hanging over Jets management: the accusations of a coach sexually assaulting a player with the Chicago Blackhawks and upper management choosing to not report it. Two former Blackhawks employees have been asked for comment: the Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin and the Jets Kevin Cheveldayoff. While Bergevin has repeatedly stated he did not know (hopefully more on the nuance around this issue later this week), Cheveldayoff and the Jets have decided not to comment. Again, the Winnipeg Free Press and other outlets have reached out to them for a comment and have heard nothing back. The culture of silence continues on.
The Jets seem to have no issue simply not addressing serious issues. They should be more than willing to make it clear that Cheveldayoff was not involved in the cover up and if he heard anything, it was secondhand information. The issue is that the Jets do not feel the need to address the fact Cheveldayoff was with the Blackhawks at the time and that he either did or did not know about the assault. Their silence speaks volumes here.
At the end of the day unless the law firm hired by the Chicago Blackhawks to investigate the Chicago Blackhawks with findings that will only be shared if Gary Bettman deems it as something that needs to be shared. So a toothless investigation. This is the exact opposite way of enacting changing in a sport that sorely needs it so better safeguard against abuse and assault before it happens. Instead of getting words and actions that could bring real change we get nothing more than empty words.
Empty words that rattle around the building formerly known as Bell MTS Place. Words that have not been said by Craig Heisinger when it comes to Graham James. Words that have not been uttered about the unnamed Chicago Blackhawks player and Brad Aldrich when it comes to Kevin Cheveldayoff. No comment whatsoever about what he knew or did not know. The silence speaks louder that 16 345 Jets fans on any given night. Without words, it looks like you have something to hide even if you do not.