A really weird story emerged out of Toronto over the weekend when the Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate suspended one of their goalies indefinitely. That goaltender, Garret Sparks, was disciplined by the Toronto Marlies because of a message that he posted on a private Facebook group he’s a part of.
Sparks apparently helps run a closed group comprised of hockey goalies on the social media site, and a message that he sent in November was screenshotted by an unidentified member and then passed around online. The Marlies became aware of the situation and suspended Sparks for a violation of the team’s social media policy. Specifically, he was punished for "directing violent and sexist language toward a user," according to TSN.
Here’s the message in question, via Scott Wheeler on Twitter:
The vulgar message obviously isn’t a great look for Sparks, who gained a bit of notoriety in the hockey world last year after posting a shutout for the Maple Leafs in his first NHL appearance. But the incident also needs a little bit of context.
According to other members of the group who have come forward, Sparks’ angry message was in response to a member of the group mocking another individual who happened to be disabled. That person was not able to defend himself, so Sparks allegedly stepped in and stood up for him.
Here’s a personal account from the woman named "Ali Lynn" who is seen reprimanding Sparks for sexism in the screenshot. She defends the Leafs goalie, saying he lost his temper but was right to stand up for the person being bullied and that the message never should have been leaked to the media.
Jacob Wint, an administrator of the Facebook group, released a statement in wake of Sparks’ suspension and called the whole thing "blown out of proportion." Here’s more from Wint:
"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 no timetable yet for Sparks’ reinstatement, but the team says it will evaluate the situation in the coming week.