If there is one thing any parent would turn homicidal about, it’s the abuse of their child. I know that I would. The thought of one of my friends’ children coming home with tales of abuse would send me right over the edge, and my normally mild mannered personality would turn into a mood that would be less Bruce Banner and more Incredible Hulk.
Unfortunately, one thing that keeps marring our beloved sport of hockey is sexual abuse. It continues to rear its ugly head and fill our homes, arenas, and sports news outlets with stories much less inspiring than all the good things that can come out of hockey at any level. Most recently, former NHL player and minor league hockey coach Michael McBain was sentenced this week for his sexual abuse of a 12 year old girl over a four year period. He will be registered as a sex offender and submit to lifetime supervision. His prison sentence is four to fifteen years.
Honestly, it should be more.
Let’s walk through the lasting effects of sexual abuse on a general level. For a period of my own life I was very close to a victim of sexual abuse, so I got to see the long term effects long after the abuse had ended. This person would wake up suddenly from nightmares and would go into waking trances. The person spent five years struggling with trust issues with opposite gender, and still struggles with it to this day, two decades later. The person in question struggles with completing things, and still is working on graduating college. The person has had problems with sabotaging themselves in the past. Add in issues of self-worth, mood swings, problems with substance abuse, and occasionally recalling previously repressed memories.
This person will battle their abuser for their entire life. For the victim, its a daily struggle and a life sentence, and Michael McBain can be back on the streets in as little as four years (and potentially less with good behaviour). Is this justice?
So, let’s put this into a hockey perspective. Graham James is a convicted sex offender, more than 350 times over. His victims include former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy and elite scoring mighty mite Theoren Fleury. Think of the will and mental toughness it takes to be a hockey player in the NHL. Now, add in the skill to perform at the very highest level in the NHL, such as Theo Fleury did. Now, think about the problems I described above.
That gave these two players, one of them a Stanley Cup winner, a tremendous wall to climb. Puts things into perspective doesn’t it?
So, to back track for a moment, neither the sentence McBain received, nor the various sentences James received, fit the crime. It is absolutely ridiculous to think that any sentence that includes a floor that includes a single digit number of years. And in the case of James, he has spent years jumping from jail to pardon to court to Guadalajara to an appeal that he could possibly win. I can’t even explain how awful the idea that Graham James, or any other sex offender for that matter wandering the streets, even with mandatory registration and lifetime supervision.
Hockey is not the only sport that has these monsters around. One of college football’s greatest characters, Joe Paterno, has had a massive legacy destroyed by one of his staff being found guilty of abusing young adults and children, a subject my colleague Lindsay Higgins has written about here. And James and McBain are not the only monsters in hockey, either, as Dino Ciccarelli, along with three other players on the Washington Capitals, fell under investigation for the sexual abuse of a 17 year old Georgetown girl in 1990. Now, those allegations were suspect, however, when someone mentions Dino, that’s the first thing I think of, not all the incredible goals he scored.
The fact is that the justice system in both Canada and the US need to take a look at the sentences they hand out for prolonged sexual abuse. The effects of abuse continue on long after these broken humans are back out in society. McBain will undoubtedly be released on early parole, and will be able to pick up the pieces of the life he damaged all on his own. Maybe he will be able to find work. But the fact is sex offenders have a tremendous rate of recidivism, with or without supervision and registration.
Maybe the legal systems in North America can take a page from Brendan Shanahan’s short reign as NHL discipline czar. Make the sentences extremely steep to discourage others from performing similar acts. Create preventative measures in prisons in attempt to rewire these souls that have caused so much pain for their victims, their families, and friends. But, the very first step, before anything else, is to take care of the victims. For them, it will be a life long struggle just to go through the day to day.
And that is the last word.