Ontario Hockey League execs are likely feeling fairly proud of themselves this morning. They took swift and appropriately harsh action on Wednesday, suspending two players, Greg Betzold of the Peterborough Petes and Jake Marchment of the Belleville Bulls, 15 games each after they were caught engaging in wildly misogynistic behavior.
From a league statement:
These suspensions follow recent social networking activity that has come to the League’s attention. This most inappropriate and concerning activity contravenes the League’s social networking policy and a number of other policies including Respect in Sport (Harassment and Abuse) and diversity.
The OHL takes issues related to respect, diversity and harassment very seriously. The social networking conduct displayed by these players goes against what the League stands for and serves to highlight a sense of entitlement that we, as a League, have worked hard to try to eliminate. We believe these suspensions, going forward, will reinforce to our players that all activity, be it in person, on the ice or online, must be in keeping with our policies. These events further illustrate that the League and our teams must continually work with our players to ensure that they understand and appreciate our social networking policy.
Wait ... what?
Talk about tone deaf. The punishment was right on the mark but it sounds like they completely misunderstand the nature of the crime.
The problem here isn't a breakdown in the appreciation of the league's social networking policy. It's a culture that diminishes and debases women.
That's not unique to junior hockey. It breeds anywhere young men feel a sense of entitlement, where privilege or achievement are valued over basic human decency. But the past couple of years have made it clear how pervasive this issue is in our game, from the sexual assault charges that New Jersey Devils prospect Ben Johnson faces to the allegations of gang sexual assault by members of the University of Ottawa hockey team.
In this latest incident, the two players were outed after private conversations (as if there is such a thing) on the dating app Tinder were made public. Betzold responded to a woman's rejection of his advances by calling her a "pure bread (sic) dumb stupid c—t." Marchment, who is Belleville's captain and a sixth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, was even more demeaning after he was shot down. “Babe I play in the O and got drafted to the NHL ya I get turned down so much…Lolz you ugly c—t.”
It doesn't get much more vile and cavalier than that.
This then was the perfect opportunity to take a stand against a deeply ingrained cancer, to set a standard of moral behavior. Instead, the OHL focused on the responsible use of social media and glossed over the real problem with a promise to "see where improvements may be made in terms of communications and respect for others."
They'll probably find room for a few.
Make no mistake: The first order of business in junior hockey is business, and in dishing out these suspensions the OHL did what was needed to protect the integrity of the league. But there's a greater responsibility that needs to be addressed as well. In taking these boys away from their families for four or five critical teenage years, it's imperative that coaches and team officials take some responsibility for developing them not just into hockey players but into the men they'll be for the rest of their lives.
Sure, guiding them towards responsible use of social media is a valuable part of that process, but understanding that women deserve to be treated with respect? That was the real teaching moment here. And the OHL missed the net.