Garret Sparks suspended by Maple Leafs for Facebook behavior

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The delicate dance between professional athletes and social media took another awkward turn this week, as the Toronto Maple Leafs organization suspended goalie Garret Sparks for comments on a Facebook goalie group he helps run.

According to TSN, the Toronto Marlies suspended Sparks “indefinitely” for violating team policy on social media use, specifically “violent and sexist language toward a user” on the Facebook Group “Goalie Gear Sluts United.” (Yes, sexist language on Goalie Gear Sluts United.)

He was scratched on Friday and Saturday night for the Marlies.

From Kristen Shilton:

According to users in a Facebook goalie group for which Sparks is an administrator, members of the forum were mocking a disabled person and Sparks came to that person’s defence by asking one of those in the forum where he lived and writing, “I want to go to open hockey with you, drag you out to center ice and beat you into a [expletive] pulp until you can’t run that [expletive] little mouth of yours. God, you sound like a 13-year-old girl.”

When another member reprimanded Sparks for insulting women, he apologized and continued, “Girls don’t even whine as much as this guy does.”

Here are the comments, screen-grabbed from the group:

Via @scottcwheeler
Via @scottcwheeler

Via Scott Wheeler

Sparks was 3-1 in four appearances with the Marlies this season. He became a cult sensation in 17 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season, including a shutout in his first NHL appearance.

Jacob Wint, a GGSUnited Board Administrator, released a lengthy statement on the matter this weekend, supporting Sparks in light of the suspension:

Over the past four years, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Garret Sparks and being fortunate enough to not only be his business associate but also to call him a close friend. The events that occurred in the online goalie forum were merely due to Garret defending a member of the group who suffers from a disability. Since the mid-2000s before his career even took off, Garret has been involved in online goalie communities. As his career took off he remained a part of them, including the one I have been involved in called GGSUnited. Garret would always take time out of his day to talk to other goalies both young and old about whatever they wanted to know from him. He treated everyone in the group with respect and did not let where he was in his career from thinking he was above others.

Garret, myself and a few other of our friends created a camp for these members to meet four years ago. He wanted to give back to the community in more ways than he already has. He always will put his reputation aside to share his love of hockey and goaltending with others. He is loved by so many goalies around the globe, it is a shame that this event was blown out of proportion.

It is important to take the time to say that this issue was simply Garret protecting someone who could not defend himself. Garret was so invested in helping this individual follow his dreams of becoming a goalie. Garret invested his time and efforts to stand up for this individual, showing that he cared deeply to the well being of someone who was being mistreated and standing up for what he believed in.

The GGSU nature has been one of playful words and harmless banter. It is what has created the atmosphere and community we have worked so hard to develop over the years. It has never been acceptable to make fun of an individual who cannot stand up for himself, nor will we allow it to happen.

While we do not condone some of the things posted, we would like to say that we completely support Garret’s honest intentions and stand behind him and only apologize that this has snowballed into something much bigger than it needed to be.

There’s a lot to unpack here.

First off, GGSU is a closed group. A member screen-grabbed the interaction, and then alerted others about it. This doesn’t exonerate Sparks about threatening someone on social media, but it’s important to note that it’s not as if this conversation played out on Twitter for public consumption. Someone narc’d. And Sparks is an idiot if he continues to participate in a forum that clearly doesn’t value his confidence.

Second, if this is about “sexism,” then it’s quite a reversal of policy for the Toronto Maple Leafs. We’re about a year and a half removed from Morgan Rielly of the Leafs using “not here to be a girl about it and not worry about it” when answering a question in the real world about work ethic. He apologized for the comment, but was very much not “suspended indefinitely,” even if there were calls for it.

If this is a new policy, we’re sure many are pleased with it. But we imagine it’s more about the subtle difference between a 20-year-old foundational defenseman vs. minor league goalie, one imagines.

Finally, should this have been a suspension?

It’s an overreaction based on the context of the interaction, and Sparks appears to be justified in his anger. But are these types of situations like snowflakes, or should there be a uniform solution to them? Because the next “justifiable” situation might be less black-and-white. And, at the end of the day, we’re still talking about a professional athlete, representing an organization, threatening a civilian, even in the context of a goalie board. Had he shouted the same thing at 2 a.m. in a bar and it’s caught on video, are we even having a debate?

So you can decry the P.C. police and what have you, but this is the culture now: Outrage begets outrage begets outrage begets selective enforcement of specious social media standards, in which what you’ve said is sometimes less important than who you are.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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