The saddest part about this is that Ontario Hockey League suspensions have allegedly led to threats being made against a young woman, but we'll get to that in a minute. The almost as sad part about Peterborough's Greg Betzold and Belleville's Jake Marchment each being suspended for 15 games for their abusive behaviour on Tinder is that the OHL has been aware, for some time, that their sport has several issues emanating being joined at the hip with what is variously called bro culture or toxic masculinity.
The sport's traditional machismo was almost the fourth wall a month ago when commissioner David Branch unveiled the league's mental health strategy (and coincidentally, praised Betzold's team, the Peterborough Petes, for undertaking a pilot program that's become the model for the league). The topic of the day, obviously, was the measures that the OHL is taking in hope of preventing another player taking his life, as former Saginaw Spirit centre Terry Trafford did in March.
During the conference call that day, Branch noted that hockey has "a real macho attitude, that you've got to be tough and be tough at all costs... We've got to work through this program — and others — to hopefully dispel that." Later in the call, he referred to how people inside the cocoon that is the world of major junior hockey, "Being in an all-male world largely, we should not be afraid to understand how powerful love is and to embrace opportunities to show your appreciation and hug your mother and all those things."
While it was danced around, that practically seems like a portent. The boorish behaviour that Betzold and Marchment have been called to account on, after embarrassing themselves and so many others by association, reflects that virtually all-male hockey bubble Branch alluded to about a month ago.
The junior hockey world did not create toxic masculinity, of course. At the same time, it cannot go on being oblivious to its responsibility to help foster positive attitudes toward women among players. People seek out sports for escapism, but eventually people escape back out to the real world. Stamping out sexism is part and parcel of junior hockey's mission to developed well-adjusted adults, something it likes to brag about doing.
Saying that this type of misogyny has pervaded major junior hockey for decades and only came to light due to social media misses the point. The fact of the matter, really, is that one of the accusers was able to use social media for good, a small-scale comparison to the thousands of women who have bravely participated in the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign sparked by the ongoing Jian Ghomeshi scandal. The hockey world might want to pretend this doesn't touch them, but ultimately it does.
The length of the suspensions also have nothing to do with the fact degrading behaviour toward women is topical. The subjugation of women has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. And it's not the first time a player or official has got a long suspension for violating the OHL's diversity policy.
In the big picture, a stern warning needed to be sent to all players that the old-school, Victorian-era distinction between private and public really doesn't exist any more with Tinder and other apps. There's no having it both ways. In the meantime, the OHL and the other two member leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League should figure out how to talk to their players about how to be nice to women.
It would be a delicate process. One piece of free advice is to reach out to the former NFL and CFL quarterback Don McPherson, whose life work involves speaking out on gender roles in sports. (Small world: McPherson was a college and CFL teammate of Richard Nurse, the father of Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds captain Darnell Nurse.) McPherson has jock cred, having played an alpha sport.
Perhaps the last thing the OHL needs is another program that is also part PR exercise. The least it can do is make an effort. Meantime, the Betzold/Marchment story might stay on the frontburner since it has allegedly spilled over into a backlash against one of the young women.
One of the women, a 17-year-old, involved in the OHL comment controversy tells me she is now receiving threats online.
— Sunaya Sapurji (@sunayas) November 5, 2014
Anyone who would threaten a 17-year-old girl over an OHL suspension really, really needs to evaluate their life.
— Sunaya Sapurji (@sunayas) November 5, 2014
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.