Winnipeg Jets’ silence speaks volumes
About nine months ago, the Winnipeg Free Press wrote a series of articles called A Stain on Our Game. The series covered a serial hockey sex abuser: Graham James. Most people know James because he was put in jail for his crimes. Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury have opened up about their abuse of his hands. He was eventually sent to prison. But there is an unspoken connection to James in the NHL today. He is not a player who survived him or who was coached by him like Joe Sakic. No, it’s Craig Heisinger.
Heisinger’s knowledge of such incidents was surveyed by the Winnipeg Free Press. They also asked him about knowledge of hazing rituals with the Winnipeg Warriors. Heisinger has been evasive about his past when it comes to his connection to James and the harm done to players James had access to. In fact, there’s a comment from 2011 that was made by Heisinger about James and it’s not exactly a condemnation for his serial player abuse: line a million different ways. But there were people he gave the opportunity to, and I was one of them. (source)
Again, in 2012, the Free Press spoke to Heisinger again to begin probing Graham James and had Heisinger recorded. Again, his comment leaves you resenting a lot more of him: “You can save your breath. I’m not going to say anything about it. I do not say anything. No comment. I am not commenting on Graham James’ situation. I have nothing to say.
Why do I dwell on Steve Lyon’s comment? Because it exposes a huge problem with the Winnipeg Jets: They didn’t want to examine a long relationship between James and Heisinger, including Heisinger being part-owner of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen when James was hired by them. At the very least, Heisinger should be prepared to denounce James with the heat of a thousand suns. He is a known serial abuser who has used his position of power to prey on vulnerable young men. He was and is a sick man. It shouldn’t be difficult to denounce him.
Which brings me to the other dark cloud hanging over the Jets’ leadership: accusations of a coach sexually assaulting a Chicago Blackhawks player and senior management choosing not to report it. Two former Blackhawks employees were asked to comment: Montreal Canadiens Marc Bergevin and Jets Kevin Cheveldayoff. While Bergevin has repeatedly said he doesn’t 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 media contacted them for comment and had no response. The culture of silence continues.
The Jets seem to have no problem with not just fixing serious issues. They should be more than willing to clarify that Cheveldayoff was not involved in the cover-up and if he heard anything, it was second-hand information. The problem is, the Jets don’t feel the need to address the fact that Cheveldayoff was with the Blackhawks at the time and knew or was unaware of the assault. Their silence speaks volumes here.
Ultimately, unless the law firm hired by the Chicago Blackhawks to investigate the Chicago Blackhawks with findings that will only be shared if Gary Bettman considers it needs to be shared. So a toothless investigation. This is exactly the reverse of implementing change in a sport that badly needs it. Instead of getting words and actions that could make real change, we get nothing more than empty words.
Empty words echoing through the building formerly known as Bell MTS Place. Words that were not said by Craig Heisinger when it comes to Graham James. Words that have not been said about the anonymous Chicago Blackhawks player and Brad Aldrich regarding Kevin Cheveldayoff. No comment on what he knew or didn’t know. The silence speaks louder than the fans of 16,345 Jets every night. Without words, it looks like you have something to hide even if you don’t.