Sex Abuse Ordeal Resurfaces for 'Battle of the Blades' Competitor Theoren Fleury
TORONTO – Talk about reality TV meeting reality: former NHL star Theoren Fleury recalled the moment this week when, while learning new figure skating moves to compete in the CBC Battle of the Blades competition series, he received a surprise phone call from the Winnipeg police.
The news was Graham James, a convicted sex offender who molested Fleury when he coached him as a 14 year-old junior hockey player, was about to be arrested at a Toronto airport on fresh sexual assault charges.
"As a courtesy, they (Winnipeg police) gave me a heads-up because they knew my phone would blow up after they issued their statement," Fleury said, knowing James was off the streets and in jail.
From the moment a year ago when Fleury published his tell-all autobiography first alleging repeated sexual abuse at the hands of James, to a month ago when the retired NHL player debuted on Battle of the Blades in competition with partner and former Olympic ice queen Jamie Sale', his story has gripped the nation.
"Because this is a reality TV show, part of the production process is allowing me to tell my story, one that captivated Canada long before the show started, with my book's publication," Fleury explained.
The knock-out competition has seen Fleury and seven other former NHL tough guys paired with Olympic figure skating stars to master graceful ice dance routines that are voted on by a panel of judges and ordinary TV viewers.
But Fleury has endeared himself to Canadian TV viewers by mixing charismatic performances on ice with in-show interviews where he quietly, yet assuredly, reminds Canadians he endured sexual abuse, and bounced back.
Equally shocking to Canadians was the recent news that James, who already served three-and-a-half years in prison for sexually abusing other junior hockey players, in 2007 was pardoned by the Canadian justice system so he could lead a new life in Mexico away from the media glare.
What Canadian TV viewers also didn't know until this week was, as Fleury competed in the Canadian TV competition series, he provided evidence to the Winnipeg Police so they could issue a new arrest warrant for James two weeks ago to draw him back to Canada to face new charges.
"We've been in cooperation the whole time. That's probably why the investigation is where it's at today," Fleury said.
John Brunton, executive producer of Battle of the Blades, applauds Fleury for using his skating artistry win the TV competition series while working on-air, and behind the scenes, to help end child sexual abuse.
"Though the arrest of this guy (James) brings up ghosts from the past, the flip side is Theo is in a very high profile position... to promote this idea that society has to stand up and do something about sexual predators and no longer sweep the issue under the rug," Brunton said.
That said, Fleury knows he's in another fight, to keep learning new figure skating techniques, from lifts to lutzes, to impress the "Battle of the Blades" judges and TV audience.
"I don't know where all this is headed. But when I do something, I do it to the very best of my ability. That's the reason I carved out a Hall of Fame hockey career," Fleury said before disappearing back into an ice rink for another day session on figure skates.