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Windsor Spitfires stand by Ben Johnson amid sexual assault charges, but might be inviting criticism

Johnson was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2012 (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

Ben Johnson was charged with two counts of sexual assault at the very end of the Windsor Spitfires' season, which wasn't the worst thing from a strict crisis management point of view.

It means the 19-year-old forward has been out of the limelight for the past several months. It also meant the Spitfires' handling of the situation was not an ongoing story, in a 180-degree swing from what the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds organization faced last season when three players were charged with sexual assault days before the start of training camp.

Now Johnson, a New Jersey Devils draft pick, is at in training camp and it is a story. No one expected, or should have expected, the Spitfires to dismiss Johnson. The truth is usually somewhere between the extreme viewpoints. Long-time Windsor columnist Bob Duff says a little concerning that Windsor has taken a business-as-usual approach, which included having Johnson among a group of players who "sign[ed] autographs at a local eatery" last week.

From Duff (@asktheduffer):

Boughner said he hadn't even interacted with Johnson since the left-winger returned to his home in Calumet, Mich., following the 2012-13 season.

"To be honest with you, I haven't talked to him," Boughner said. "That's a private matter. It's a personal thing. If Ben needs someone to talk to, I'm always here."

Boughner feels that Johnson's presence on the club's roster won't prove to be a distraction as the season progresses and his legal matters unfold before the courts.

"Not on our end," Boughner said. "I don't think so. It's been 5-6 months since the news.

"From here on out, for us, it's about getting ready for the home opener. That's all it is."

It's a nice thought, but one that's far from reality. (Windsor Star)

Johnson is innocent until proven guilty, of course. There's also a publication ban on several elements of the case, but what is known lends itself to the team telling the public it had sent Johnson for counselling. The issues at play, teenage drinking and entitlement, are fairly universal in the sports world. Generally speaking, it's also not something that will go away just because a criminal case is handled.

Sault Ste. Marie did send the three players to counselling last summer before clearing them to play in the regular season.

That demonstrated, by the hockey world's standards, some acknowledgement a team is accountable for what their players do on their own time, especially when influenced by their jock status. It comes down a team working for the social good, which the Spitfires have certainly done in the name of their late captain, Mickey Renaud.

Similarly, London Knights GM Mark Hunter, speaking shortly after charges were laid against Johnson, told the London Free Press, "We’re willing to have anyone talk to them in terms of knowing what’s expected of them and on issues they have to know about... We have people who have talked to them about drinking, drugs, sexual assault. We can’t be with them all the time but they know what is expected of them."

Granted, that could all just be a public relations tactic. No amount of awareness raising ever stops boorish behaviour. It would have been good to see the Spitfires convey some sort of message, instead of having people believe this is old news.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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