In this exclusive excerpt of , Greg Gilhooly writes a heartbreaking account of the abuse he endured from his coach and mentor, Graham James. James eventually confessed to sexually assaulting former NHL players and and was convicted of both crimes, but he was never convicted for his sexual assault of Gilhooly, leaving Gilhooly without the closure he deserved. (Charges with respect to Gilhooly were stayed by the Crown as part of the proceedings in which he plead guilty to abusing Holt and Fleury.) In his memoir, Gilhooly draws from his experience as a survivor and a lawyer, delivering a powerful indictment of a legal system that, he argues, does not adequately deal with serial sexual child abuse.
This account involves explicit details about sexual abuse and may be upsetting for some to read.
There was never a clear start to what he was doing, never a moment to look back on where I could say to myself, "There, it's so obvious what he was doing, I should have never let it happen." But then again, when I look back on all of this, all I can see now is that every single interaction with him was just such a moment, when "Of course, it's all so clear what he was doing. How could I have been so weak, so stupid, to let this all happen?" is the only possible response.
In a sense, our relationship just evolved from our initial meetings. I devoured coach Graham's progressive theories about hockey systems and his love of fast-skating defensemen and speedy forwards. I craved the attention he gave me in our meetings, being treated as a peer, as an adult. I felt fortunate that he was willing to help me progress with my hockey and my academics, that he was willing to mentor me and bring out the best in me. So, when he suggested that we meet at a school field for a training session, where he would show me various stretching exercises and body-positioning techniques to incorporate into my off-ice workouts, I was ecstatic.
Beyond wanting to excel at hockey, I was still, deep inside, the insecure, overweight young boy who in my own mind needed to work extra hard on my physical conditioning. No matter how tall, strong, and athletic I had became by age 14, in my mind I was still the uncoordinated, pudgy boy who hadn't yet grown into his body. I was the perfect willing subject.
Graham had picked up on that, and he was very good at taking the stories of my past and using them to hone in on my insecurities and convince me that I needed his training methods.
1980: Groomed for His Attacks
"You know, a guy like you with big legs has to work hard to keep up with the play."
"You know, a guy like you has to fight for everything you'll ever get, because nobody's ever going to help you like I will."
"You know, just because you're smart and you know what to do doesn't mean your body is going to do it all on its own."
Graham would never participate in any of the physical exercises or drills, blaming his asthma (or a hernia or an arm in a sling or some other excuse). I have no idea why it never dawned on me back then that these ailments would in no way have prevented him from, say, at least doing some of the stretching with me. I guess I was just so caught up in the moment and what I was doing that I never even noticed that he preferred to just lean back and stare at me. I would stretch, I would do squats, I would do push-ups and sit-ups, all under his watchful eye. I viewed this as my opportunity to learn from an expert and impress a leading figure in the hockey community, one who could give me everything I had ever dreamed of.
One night during a training session, he pushed me until I was exhausted. I had worked my legs so hard that I could already feel them stiffening as I sat down, leaned back, and gulped for air. I was sweating hard, my shirt was soaked, and stopping felt so good. The intense exertion gave way to the usual post-workout euphoria that I craved so much and that felt so intoxicating.
Graham started going on about the physiology of a hockey player. He noted that a hockey player was required to perform everything on skates, two small edges of steel.
"A hockey player looks with the eyes, which starts everything. Power to move where needed comes from the core and torso, and this power must be transferred to the hips and down to the legs. From there, all of that power has to be carried by the feet in the skates, which each sit on top of the ice on thin edges of steel, which transfer all of that power to the ice. A hockey player requires very strong feet, very special type of feet that can withstand the enormous forces. Can I take a look at your feet?"
Not a demand. Not a command. A request. A simple request that at the time made enormous sense to me.
I reached down and took off my socks. I leaned back and put my feet in the air for inspection. He took one foot and cradled it, stroked it. He squeezed it, twisted it slightly, ran his palm from heel to toes. He pressed into the arch. He released the first foot and grabbed the other. Same thing, an inspection, a slow, deep analysis of my foot. He stared at each foot for what seemed like a long time. It all seemed so scientific, so analytical.
"You've got good feet. Big, strong feet. They're perfect. Perfect." The physical barrier was broken.
From then on, post-workout foot massages became part of the routine. It didn't seem strange to me but instead made perfect sense after what he'd told me about the physical mechanics of hockey. My feet felt so good after his massages, and I'd thank him for making me feel better and helping me recover from the pain of the drills.
Said another way, I thanked him for touching me.
This new pattern of foot massages continued for several months. Some foot massages lasted longer than others, some involved wedging a foot against his chest when he could use only one arm because of injury, some seemed a little different from the rest, but nothing, absolutely nothing, seemed to me to be at all inappropriate or anything other than a foot massage.
But of course, Graham wanted more, and eventually "more" happened.
"More" started out as a training session just like the rest.
"Here, why don't you lie down and I'll work the pain out of your feet."
I sensed something was different even as he started normally, with my feet. He seemed different, a bit aloof, not completely present. He started to move beyond my feet and slowly work his way up my legs. I froze. I did nothing but lie there, my eyes closed, wondering what was going on. I was afraid. I was confused. I opened my eyes, trying to get my bearings and understand what was happening. But all I caught was a glimpse of him, his face, his eyes.
It's his eyes that I remember the most. His dark, dead eyes, the kind of eyes that show absolutely no emotion at all, that seem to look right through you as if you aren't there — the eyes a shark has, cold, searching eyes that see without engaging, eyes that are always on the hunt for prey. I will never forget those eyes. I can never forget those eyes.
He moved slowly up my legs, never saying a word. I kept my own eyes shut as much as I could after seeing those eyes. They scared me. But it was too late. I had seen his eyes, the dead eyes, and they would be with me for the rest of my life.
I had no idea what was happening. I mean, I knew exactly what was happening, but I had no idea what was happening.
Where is this coming from? Why am I not pushing him away? What should I do? What could I do? Why is my body responding? I must want this. I must like this. This must be who I am. I have to get out of here. But what will he do? What will he say? What will I do? Who will believe me? How do I explain why I was with him? How do I explain all of the meetings I've had with him for months? Who can I speak to who will understand? How do I make this go away? Why am I responding? Why is my body responding? Why can't I stop responding? Why can't I say anything? Why can't I stop him? WHAT THE F*CK IS GOING ON?
It all happened in utter silence. There was a radio on, no doubt to muffle sounds, but I could no longer hear a thing. All I could hear was the blood pumping through my temples, pounding in my ears, the sensation of being removed from the world around me and locked in my own space. At least, that's how I remember it. Or maybe that memory came from the hundreds, if not thousands, of nightmares I've had ever since. What I know with absolute certainty is that I couldn't hear a thing.
He rubbed my legs. He fondled me. He masturbated me. He exposed himself. He rubbed himself on my face and inserted his penis in my mouth. He returned his focus to my feet. He masturbated and ejaculated over my feet and shins.
I covered myself back up as quickly as I could. But I didn't run. I didn't know what to do. I sat there until he came back in. And then we talked. Rather, he talked, I listened.
"You're progressing so well. You have so much talent, your legs are so strong, you have limitless potential. You know, people like us have to support each other. We're not like others. They would never understand who we are. They don't see things the way we do. I know you're a bit lost right now, but I understand you. I see who you are and what you can be. People like us have to look out for each other. We have to support each other. But people like us, working together, can make anything happen."
Maybe he had been telling me all along and I just hadn't understood. I thought "people like us" had referred to the talented jock as geek, geek as jock. Now, with what had just happened, I was pretty sure he was telling me that I was gay.
And then he confirmed it: "If our secret ever gets out, everyone will think you're gay. Nobody will want you on their team or in their program. It would be the end of everything for you because nobody wants to deal with people like us."
I walked home, a zombie detached from the world around me. I cried like I'd never cried before in my life. It was a long walk, a route I usually jogged at a leisurely pace, but I couldn't breathe properly. It was very cool outside, that I remember, but that's about all. I couldn't feel anything. I was off in my own world, far removed from this one. Lights were blurry, and once again I couldn't really hear anything. Was I in shock? Probably. I cried in solitude. There is so much that I don't remember, that I don't want to remember, that I have actively tried to forget over all of these years. But there is also so much I will never, ever be able to forget.
Because there would be more than just a single incident. Much more.
2012: Bringing Him to Justice
Graham's sentencing hearing was set for the morning of February 22, 2012. Even though my charges had been stayed, I wasn't going to miss it.
This court appearance, now his second for sexual assault, had always been Graham's ultimate destiny, the realization of his true self. His defining moment wasn't ever going to be achieving coaching greatness, hoisting the Stanley Cup, basking in the glory of having revolutionized the sport of hockey, or winning accolades for developing boys into men. No, it was always Graham's destiny to be in court as a convicted serial child sexual predator facing sentencing, this time with the Honorable Justice Catherine Carlson presiding, in Winnipeg, my hometown, the place where I had grown up, the place where it had all happened.
"All rise for the Honorable Justice Catherine Carlson."
Graham had left the courtroom during a break in the proceedings and was now being brought in from the back of the room down a hallway next to the viewing gallery, separated only by a small divider. Knowing that I had wanted to look him in the eye, one of the bailiffs motioned for me to come over to where I could do so. My heart was pounding. The moment I had been waiting for. And then there he was, coming down the hallway, surrounded by security on each side. I was ready. I had been repeating to myself over and over:
I'm now a fully grown man. I am ready for this. He can't hurt me anymore. Here is my moment. I have waited a lifetime for this. Do it.
will be released on March 6. It's available for pre-order . Gilhooly went on to graduate from Princeton University and the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, and has held senior positions in numerous corporations in addition to being a public speaker and media commentator. He lives in Oakville, Ontario.
From the book I Am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole My Life by Greg Gilhooly. Copyright © 2018 by Greg Gilhooly. Published on March 6, 2018, by Greystone. Reprinted and adapted with permission.
If you or someone you know is at risk of being sexually abused, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network's (RAINN) National Sexual Assault hotline for help (800-656-HOPE/4673). Visit for more information.