Sparks is (or more accurately ‘was’) a goalie in the Toronto Maple Leafs system. He awed the hockey world when he got a shutout in his NHL debut, which has never happened in Maple Leafs history. He had the second highest save percentage in the American Hockey League before being called up to the big leagues. He is young and inexperienced, but he has a bright future ahead of him. That is, he did. Now his future as a professional hockey player is uncertain after an incident that took place on November 22nd on Facebook.
Graig Abel / National Hockey League / Getty
I’m going to quote the TSN article Sparks Suspended Indefinitely by Leafs by Kristen Shilton here as she summarizes the incident succinctly “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” “. This comment and further sexist language from Sparks comparing the commenters “whining” to that of a girl prompted the Leafs to suspend the goalie indefinitely.
Now, Sparks intentions here were clearly noble, but he is guilty of using violent and sexist language and he is an employee of a corporate entity so his online actions matter doubly. Sparks is a public figure and it behooves a person in his position to remain poised and professional online. Even more interestingly, a woman has come forward claiming to have been involved in the altercation and having told Sparks that his language was inappropriate. She continued to say that “Did he lose his temper? Yes. Was it justified? Absolutely. His heart was in the right place”. I personally will be following the situation closely to see if these statements have any bearing on Sparks future as a Leaf, as this will set an interesting precedent.
It is not my intention to defend sexist language, but rather to show the dangers of social media. It does not need to be something as blatant as Sparks’ behaviour that can put someone’s job at risk. Many people feel the need to post many personal and often inappropriate facets of their lives that their employer might take exception with. Even at my chain restaurant job we are told to be cautious with our social media posts that involve the company and for a public figure like a professional hockey player, every post represents the company.
Sparks words were clearly inappropriate and inexcusable, but from a purely professional standpoint he never should have put himself in a situation to express them. As an administrator of the Facebook page, Sparks could have banned the user or expressed his distaste for the comment in a less harmful way. Threatening to assault someone and then using sexist language to insult them are examples of the image that the NHL is trying to move away from. As an organization trying to focus on inclusiveness, an example had to be made. Clearly some random commenter on the internet is not going to meet you at open hockey and brawl with you Garret, smarten up and take your licks. It could have been a lot worse.