"Management has dealt with Garret directly and will have no further comment at this point," a member of the organization said in an email to Rogers Sportsnet. I understand what the Maple Leafs are doing in deflating this situation before it gets any worse, and that's entirely within their right to do. Veteran netminder Jeff Glass suited up with the AHL's Toronto Marlies in his place when the team was on its recent roadtrip in New York and at home this weekend.
So, like many, you're probably asking what Sparks said that sparked this reaction from the organization. According to the Toronto Star, "Sparks is a frequent contributor to the website GGSUnited.com, with 20,000-plus members, many of them netminders from around the world", and it seems his exchanged may have occurred with members of a Facebook group on November 22. TSN's Kristen Shilton reports,
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."Yikes. I'm not going to use the excuse that Garret Sparks is a 23 year-old man. Even the most youthful professional athletes know better than to make those kinds of comments in public. There is no excuse for threatening another person online or making statements about girls like Sparks did. At all. Period. End of story.
When another member reprimanded Sparks for insulting women, he apologized and continued, "Girls don't even whine as much as this guy does."
For those in that group that were mocking a disabled person, you deserve as much shame as can be heaped on anyone for your comments. According to a 2014 YouGov study, "28% of Americans admitted malicious online activity directed at somebody they didn't know." Everyone mocking this disabled person is now part of that statistic, and that means more than one-quarter of the American public has engaged in trolling. More than 1-in-4 people. Let that sink in for a second when you consider that Sparks is part of a website "with 20,000-plus members".
While Sparks did let the anger and emotion bubble to the top in this situation and I commend him for coming to the defence of someone who may not even be part of the group where he or she was being mocked, insults beget insults online. There is no excuse for the language and tone used by Sparks online towards one member of the group as an administrator or fellow group member, and there is absolutely nothing that can rationalize the comments he made about girls. None.
While it may seem like harsh punishment for a guy doing the right thing, Sparks went about it entirely the wrong way and he gave the Maple Leafs few options other than to send him home. The Toronto Marlies certainly don't need the sideshow of these online comments swirling around the team as they try to win games, so the Leafs did the right thing. Say what you will about his youth, his emotional response, or anything else, but he's a professional athlete with a microscope on him and these comments certainly would have warranted some backlash from the public had the Leafs let this one slide. They didn't, and they did the right thing in the end for the player and team.
Garret Sparks will learn from this. He's a smart guy with a bright future in hockey. Mistakes will be made, but we, as human beings, are supposed to learn from those mistakes. I'm quite certain Garret Sparks, when he returns, will have learned a great deal from this online interaction with a group of people who clearly have their own life lessons to learn.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!