Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Hockey media's shameful Mike Babcock rehab tour is underway

Mike Babcock is still a raging asshole. There’s no need to give him a platform.
Mike Babcock is still a raging asshole. There’s no need to give him a platform.
Image: Getty Images

You can always count on the hockey press to give time to a former coach who gave them time back in the day. That train is never late. One of the more archaic things about hockey, and a way it still drags miles behind, is that the press will almost always side with a coach and GM in a dispute with a player. Because hey, chances are that coach got loaded with that writer at a Montreal strip club before he threw up poutine on one of the dancers. Apparently, those bonds are hard to break.

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Hockey still views any speaking out from a player as insubordination, or the rants of a spoiled child, and back in their day, this would have been met by a crosscheck or spear that would have removed their spleen on ice. Hockey players should be seen and not heard, to hear hockey tell it.

We know Mike Babcock is a raging asshole. If you don’t remember, and a lot has happened since then, Babcock was shitcanned from the Leafs last season because it came out that he’s a raging asshole. Johan Franzen told harrowing stories of the abuse he suffered from Babcock that had a hand in him retiring. It was corroborated by teammates. And we know that just because Franzen is the one who spoke up doesn’t mean he’s the only one. We know that Babcock sold Mitch Marner down the river with his teammates to duck blame himself. These are facts. And in the hockey world, it’s rare that a player has an avenue to voice the abuse he’s receiving. GMs almost always side with the coach. Look what Ken Holland had to say about it at the time.

Remember where this all led? It was the outing of Babcock’s treatment of … well, everyone, that led Akim Aliu to go public with what he had suffered at the hands of one of Babcock’s proteges, Bill Peters. Aliu went public for that very reason. And in that story, what was the Blackhawks’ organization response to Aliu’s claims? Demoting him. Peters could go to the higher-ups and get Aliu punished for stepping out of line in Peters’ eyes. Where could Aliu go?

Well, we know now that even though the players have some oasis or avenue, coaches can still run to a sympathetic press. Step up, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.

Before Babcock begins his NBC assignments, he gets a platform to either defend himself from what took him down, or try to disprove it. The thing is, no one needs that. He had a platform for years and years, and used that to keep players down. The press was always on his side. The GMs were always on his side. This isn’t something we need to rehash:

“When a player that you’ve coached says that about you, it stings you big time. But not only does it sting for that, if you’ve been involved with mental health like I have …’”

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This is an exact transformation of “I have a Black friend” to fit in with mental health and mental abuse instead of racism. Who gives a flying fuck if you did work with Bell’s “Let’s Talk” if you don’t actually heed the message of it? (And that campaign has its own issues). SImply lending your name or filming a video without learning anything is at best running in place, at worst disingenuous. Babcock doesn’t get it.

Earlier in that article, Babcock tries to take the blame for the Marner incident. But he uses the get-out-of-jail card that Marner didn’t want him to make a bigger deal out of it than it was. Well, why would he? He’s already buried, there’s nothing Babcock could say to the team that’s going to make it any better; and given how the ravenous Toronto media works, the only thing that would happen is Steve Simmons would do his best to eat Marner’s heart on a daily basis. There were no outs for Marner. There were plenty for Babcock. And he took them.

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There comes a point where Babcock does seem to get it, at least a little?

“It doesn’t matter what I perceive. When you’re talking about this kind of thing, if the person — whether it’s a co-worker, your spouse, your student — if they think that’s the environment, that’s what they’re feeling. Now, I sure wish I would have known about that then. And I could have done something about that. Besides apologize, there’s not much I can do about that now. But does it sting? Does it hurt? Absolutely.’’

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This comes close to addressing the “impact over intent” that almost everyone misses when trying to fumble an apology for anything they’ve said or done. It doesn’t matter what you meant, and your “I’m sorry if you were offended” means you don’t understand that it’s how it’s taken that’s what matters. But again, this statement ends with how Babcock is feeling, and really, no one cares how Babcock is feeling.

As for his “success year after year” claim...well, did he? His last few Wings teams were known for being middling at best when they no longer contained four guys playing at Hall of Fame levels, and the Leafs were loaded with talent and yet fell apart in the first round under Babcock. So how healthy was his environment? Did he really have a grasp on what was going on? Doesn’t feel like it.

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Babcock, and coaches like him, have seen their time pass. We’re better off with them behind us. It’s bad enough that NBC gave him a role, when what they really need are younger, more vibrant voices that get the game and players today, which Babcock seems intent on proving he doesn’t. But don’t worry, there’ll always be guys like LeBrun to give these dopes more oxygen. His Bill Peters one can’t be far behind.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.