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Graham James returns 1989 award from The Hockey News

FILE-- Graham James holds his award in Toronto, June 8, 1989 after being named The Hockey News man of the year.

Bill Becker/The Canadian Press

The Hockey News says twice-convicted pedophile Graham James has returned a plaque the magazine gave him in his heyday as a junior coach.

The hockey publication declared James "man of the year" at its annual awards luncheon in June 1989.

Columnist Ken Campbell says The Hockey News stripped James of the award when he pleaded guilty last December to the latest sex assault charges against him.

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Campbell says he wrote at the time that James should give back the plaque he received.

Campbell says that happened recently when James approached a longtime NHL scout and asked him to return the plaque to The Hockey News.

James was sentenced last week to two years in jail for sex assaults on retired NHL star Theo Fleury and his cousin Todd Holt when they played junior hockey in the 1980s and '90s.

Campbell writes in a recent edition that the "man of the year" accolade was given to James for his stance against violence and for leading the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos to the Memorial Cup less than 2 1/2 years after a bus crash took the lives of four players.

Campbell points out that after the luncheon, James "later that night sexually assaulted Sheldon Kennedy in a hotel room paid for by The Hockey News."

Kennedy, another junior who would also go on to play in the NHL, was the person who originally came forward with sex abuse allegations that led to the coach's first conviction.

Campbell suggests that returning the plaque may be a small gesture, but it was right of James to do it.

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"James did some despicable things and he deserves to be punished as severely as the justice system deems reasonable, probably more, but we do take some comfort in the fact that James saw fit to do the right thing."

Campbell also concedes that the magazine should have stripped James of the honour after his first conviction in 1997.

"We're under no illusions that this in any way makes things right. In fact, it feels a little like a hollow gesture, largely because we should have done it 15 years ago when James pleaded guilty to ... sexual assault against Kennedy and another player.

"But we did not and there is nothing we can do about that, except to try to do our part to right a wrong. Even if it is too little, too late, at least it's something."

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