When it comes to mistreating women, sorry doesn't cut it.
That's the message the OHL sent with unprecedented action against two of its players this week. Peterborough Petes forward Greg Betzold and Belleville Bulls captain Jake Marchment were suspended for 15 games each Wednesday after screen captures of vulgar and abusive language used toward young women on the dating app Tinder circulated online.
Hours after they were posted on Twitter, Betzold acknowledged his involvement. "I apologize for my unacceptable private comments," he tweeted.
Marchment admitted Tuesday on Twitter that he had partaken in a separate conversation: "I have embarrassed myself, my teammates, the Belleville Bulls organization and the city of Belleville. I truly apologize for my actions."
The conversations were leaked online in wake of many high-profile cases of athletes mistreating women. Widespread public criticism has prompted leagues to take stern action against players involved in such situations. In the past three months, NFL running back Ray Rice, NHL defenceman Slava Voynov and NBA shooting guard Jeff Taylor have been charged with domestic violence and suspended indefinitely shortly after.
OHL commissioner David Branch has a reputation for handing out harsh suspensions. In 2005, he gave former Windsor Spitfires head coach Moe Mantha Jr. 40 games after a team hazing incident. But it's the first time a situation of this nature has occurred.
The evolution of technology is both a blessing and a curse for junior hockey players. It's easier than ever before for them to connect with strangers online – and get caught with their feet in their mouths. Before being drafted into the NHL, some amass thousands of followers who watch their every move online. And with a few taps on a smartphone touch screen, anything can be captured.
Petes head coach Jody Hull said team general manager Michael Oke called a meeting with him and Betzold immediately after seeing a screen capture of a private conversation online Monday. Oke told media Tuesday the team had handled the issue internally though did not specify what measures were taken.
In a statement Wednesday, Branch announced that Betzold and Marchment had been suspended for 15 games each as a result of recent online activity that "contravenes the League's social networking policy." Branch was unavailable for further comment.
Hull would not elaborate on the stipulations of the policy, but said every player fully understands it.
The Petes support the OHL's decision and are now taking steps to ensure the situation doesn't repeat itself .
"We're talking to different organizations in the community that can help in any way to better educate our players and our entire organization," Hull said.
In a statement posted on the Petes' website Friday, Betzold urged the public to stop making threatening remarks to the woman involved and said the team had arranged for him to receive sensitivity training.
"The language I used is a result of an attitude and behavioural issue that I have to change," Betzold wrote. "It was my mistake to use this language, and she deserves nothing but support in this situation."
Bulls general manager and head coach George Burnett did not respond to interview requests this week, but the team issued a statement Thursday: "We support a clear message that such disrespect will not be tolerated. We will continue to challenge our team members to higher levels of respect for those both on and off the ice."