Another week has gone by, and another week in which off the ice activities took precedent over what happened on the ice and the role of social media took centre stage for Greg Betzold of Peterborough and Jake Marchment of Belleville.
I adopt two rules when it comes to social media; Firstly, everything is post under my real name so that everyone knows who it is who is posting. Secondly, If I would not say to someone's face, then I am not going to say it online. I try to use social media as a conduit to those who follow me on Twitter and to have meaningful conversation. Seems a little idealistic, but I am trying to see puppy dogs, rainbows and the glass being half full more than grey clouds, the glass being half empty and wolves? Man that was a terrible analogy. However, I am also a 42 year old man, not a teenager. Goodness knows what sort of problems I would have entangled myself with if I had access to social media under the Twitter handle @Rockin'Mullet88. Young people on social media often do not have the foresight to see the forest beyond the trees when it comes to social media. Heck, not even adults use social media as grown ups should sometimes.
To the story at hand. Betzold and Marchment were on Tinder, which apparently is a social media app that allows people to mingle, socialize and see if they have mutual interests. You can "like " someone and get matched up for a chat, or you can simply "swipe" someone and ignore someone if you do not like someone. Man, I got "swiped" a lot in high school. During their interaction with some women, things went off the rails. Without getting into graphic detail, the players used language that was harassing, hateful, mean, entitled and just plain spiteful. They denigrated the young ladies they were interacting with, and came across, quite frankly as jackasses.
However, the problem began when one of the ladies in question sent the exchange to a guy known as "OHL Insiders on Twitter", and this person promptly publicized the whole exchange and that is when it hit the fan. To me, it was a terrible decision to post the full conversation online for everyone to see. There is far too much judgement in the public arena of social media. What should have happened is that the exchange should have been forwarded in confidence to the teams in question and the league without all the unsavoury details. Maybe that is naive, when there really is no good that can come from putting it out there for all to see. That said, when the Peterborough Petes got wind of what Betzold did, they said they were going to deal with matters internally and not publicize their decision. That , to me, sent a terrible message and gave the appearance that it was going to swept under the rug. I told the person this, and made my opinion known. He disagreed with me, and really seemed invested in what sort of publicity he could generate for himself rather than some sort of moral compass. Again, that's my take and he knows that.
The OHL ruled harshly, some may say in a Draconian manner. 15 games each for both Betzold and Marchment. In other words almost a quarter of the season. To me that seemed unduly harsh and the OHL seemed to adjudicating based on the reaction of everyone rather than the action itself. They did use the right language when publicizing the situation and referred to the sense of entitlement that the OHL was trying to remove from the game. No question I would have suspended them, and I would have settled in the 5 to 10 game range, not 15. The OHL has painted themselves into a corner and will be rightly criticized for suspending players for 15 games for what is their first offense of this nature. Where do they go from here when it comes to misuse of social media? Should Marchment and Betzold do it again, do they get 20 games 30 games? I deal with teenagers everyday as a high school law teacher, and in many cases harshest is not best when it comes to discipline. Incremental stages of discipline work better when put in place in the education system, so why not junior hockey?
The other problem is that the wolves are circling the OHL and CHL. Unions, lawyers and others are lurking at the fringes just waiting to throw the CHL under the bus. A case in point was when a Jr A player made headlines when his $20 000 dentist bill was only covered by Hockey Canada to the tune of $2500. Bam! Jerry Dias of UNIFOR is quoted in the story, and Glenn Gumbley of the CHLPA is not far behind with his take. Same goes with this suspension. This gives them ample fodder to wrongly spout about the ills of the game. A lot of people outside of the game made this one their lead headlines and used it to hop on their soapbox, which I guess I am guilty of as well.
I truly hope that these players will be better people for this, and I hope that they legitimately feel terribly for what they did because these were young women they were disparaging, and we do a lousy job of considering the feelings of the victims in any situation, let alone this one. I also hope that there are very serious conversations going on in 60 CHL locker rooms today about the perils of social media. Players need to be reminded that they are representing not only themselves, but also a team and a community. They also need to be reminded that nothing truly is private. Again, I thought it was a terrible decision to put out the transcripts of the exchanges, but what is done is done. For the OHL , I really hope they mete out punishment consistent with the crime, not the reaction to the crime.
I commend the young ladies who bravely stood up against this. Often victims are reluctant to come forward, as their blameworthiness is assessed and they get unfairly thrust into the spotlight. No one deserves to have the things said about them that the players said.
Again, lets get back to hockey and lets circle the wagons to promote this great game, rather than give those who want to subvert the game the ammunition to do so.