Will We Learn From the Mike Babcock Situation?
Photo credit:Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY NETWORK
By Jason Gregor2 months ago
Mike Babcock resigned as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets yesterday before he coached even one practice. He resigned due to abusing his power. Last week, on the Spittin’ Chicklets podcast, Paul Bissonette outlined what he heard Babcock was doing in Columbus. He said Babcock had allegedly been asking various Blue Jackets to see their phones and grilling them about the photos.
When the report initially surfaced the Blue Jackets organization felt Babcock had done nothing wrong. It sent out these comments from Babcock and team captain, Boone Jenner.
Jenner outlined his own experience with Babcock, which likely was the truth. The problem wasn’t with Jenner, it was how Babcock approached younger players. Many of them felt uncomfortable. If Babcock asked to see pictures of a player’s kids, as Jenner outlined, that is understandable, but if you read Babcock’s words in this release, he clearly didn’t tell the truth. He lied, or best-case scenario misled the organization, because he didn’t mention how his alleged treatment and interaction with the young players. That is where he crossed the line. He abused his power, just like he did in Toronto and Detroit.
Babcock crossing the line isn’t a surprise. Many questioned the hiring when it happened. As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Babcock clearly feels intimidating players is a good thing to do. Don’t make excuses for him. His actions in Detroit, Toronto and now in Columbus prove it. What we need to understand is that Babcock can have good interactions with some people, in this case Jenner, but then cross the line with others. He went after the young players, who are less likely to push back because they are trying to make the NHL, or at the very least want to make a good impression with the head coach. I applaud them for speaking up, first to Bissonnette and then to Ron Hainsey, Marty Walsh and the NHL Players’ Association.
I’m stunned Babcock felt it was appropriate to ask players for their phones, and then scroll through them. In 2023, that is the ultimate invasion of privacy. It doesn’t matter what was on the phone — it wasn’t his business, or his right, to see it.
Babcock’s actions are how a bully, a predator or a psychopath acts. They like to prey on those they think are vulnerable.
His statement yesterday illustrates how gutless he truly is.
“Upon reflection, it has become clear that continuing as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets was going to be too much of a distraction. While I’m disappointed to not have had the opportunity to continue the work we’ve begun, I know it’s in the best interest of the organization for me to step away at this time. I wish everyone in the organization well in the upcoming season.”
Zero accountability. He didn’t even address how his actions were inappropriate. In July when he was hired, he claimed he knew he needed to communicate with players better than he had in Detroit and Toronto, and that he would. Hollow words, because before the season officially started, he tried to intimidate and play mind games with young players by demanding to see their phones and scroll though the pictures. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is who Babcock is. Mike Commodore and others have said it for years, but people, and in this case the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, didn’t believe him. “Why not?” is a question they should be asking themselves today.
Even now, you will see the odd person try to claim this is about “soft” players or a soft society. It isn’t. This was a gross invasion of privacy by someone in a position of power. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He was all nice and interactive with Jenner showing him pictures of his family and asking Jenner to see pictures of his kids. He knew he wouldn’t be wise to put Jenner on the spot, so instead he tried to intimidate and play mind games with the young players.
And according to Elliott Friedman, “It occurred in a meeting away from team facilities that included ‘several minutes’ of looking through a phone.” He tried to hide it — why else would he have organized a meeting of this nature away from the rink? This wasn’t a team bonding outing away from the rink. It was a pre-planned strategy to intimidate young players.
And the statement from Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen was equally disappointing.
“This was a difficult decision on everyone’s part, but one we felt necessary to ensure our focus remains on the players and the team’s upcoming season. On behalf of the entire Blue Jackets organization, we want to thank Mike for his hard work and the professionalism he has shown in working together on a plan to step down.”
He thanked Babcock, but never once said his actions were wrong. What message does that send to his players? Not a good one from my seat.
NHLPA Executive director, Marty Walsh, released this statement: “Our players deserve to be treated with respect in the workplace. Unfortunately, that was not the case in Columbus. The club’s decision to move forward with a new head coach is the appropriate course of action,” wrote Walsh. Damn straight.
If Bissonnette didn’t go public, Babcock would still be the head coach, and some of the Blue Jackets players would enter training camp very uncomfortably. The organization should send Bissonnette a gift, because he was willing to speak up. And this is the part of the story where we as a society need to learn and improve.
Look how many called Bissonnette a liar, or that he was just stirring the pot to try and get ratings. Both claims are comical. He has the #1 hockey podcast — he doesn’t need ratings, he’s doing fine. Many tried to discredit him because they don’t like other things he says. It is fair to say the Spittin’ Chicklets podcast isn’t for everyone. It can be crass, but because you don’t like what he says on his podcast doesn’t mean he is a liar. I don’t recall him putting out blatantly false reports. He doesn’t try to be an “insider,” but he does have good connections to players. Trying to discredit him, because you don’t like his podcast, is misguided.
It was amazing how many wanted to believe Babcock, because of his statement, and automatically discredit Bissonnette. Think about it: Babcock has a history of mistreating his players — stories about Johan Franzen and Mitch Marner were confirmed by the players.
“Babcock was alleged to have asked one of the Leafs’ rookies to list the players on the team from hardest-working to those who, in the eyes of the rookie, didn’t have a strong work ethic. The rookie did so, not wanting to upset his coach, but was taken aback when Babcock told the players who had been listed at the bottom,” wrote Terry Koshan in 2019.
Franzen’s comments regarding the treatment he endured from Babcock were worse.
“I get the shivers when I think about it. That incident occurred against Nashville in the playoffs. It was coarse, nasty and shocking. But that was just one out of a hundred things he did. The tip of the iceberg. He’s a terrible person, the worst I have ever met. He’s a bully who was attacking people. It could be a cleaner at the arena in Detroit or anybody. He would lay into people without any reason,” Franzen said in this article.
Babcock’s treatment of Franzen was horrific, yet people still blindly believed him due his statement, and quickly tried to dismiss Bissonnette. Bissonnette reported the truth. Babcock abused his position of power and tried to intimidate young players.
When you see how people reacted towards Bissonnette — who was the messenger — not the player(s) themselves who felt uncomfortable, it is easy to see why survivors of abuse, sexual abuse and rape rarely speak out. People don’t want to believe despicable actions, so they try to discredit the victim, or those speaking up on their behalf.
Luckily for these players, Babcock’s actions shouldn’t have a long-lasting negative effect on them. They shouldn’t have nightmares or long-term health issues, like victims of abuse, sexual abuse and rape. Many people didn’t want to believe Babcock did what he did, which isn’t close to as horrific as what predators do to victims of abuse. Yet, many in the public sphere still jumped all over Bissonnette.
If you were one of them, you should re-evaluate your actions — just like we all should when it comes to believing survivors of abuse.
I’m interested to see where Columbus goes from here. How long does Kekäläinen remain as GM? He was the one who didn’t listen to Franzen, Commodore and others who spoke honestly about how cruel of a human Babcock can be. They announced the hiring on July 1st and 79 days later Babcock resigned — then Kekäläinen publicly thanked him for his hard work, while saying nothing about him invading the privacy of his younger players. Gross.
Pascal Vincent replaces Babcock. Vincent was a head coach in the QMJHL for 11 seasons, was an assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jet from 2012-2016, then the head coach of their AHL affiliate, Manitoba Moose, for five years from 2017-2021. Last year he was an assistant coach in Columbus and got the promotion to head coach yesterday. He has 22 years of coaching experience, and I’m sure he is excited for his NHL opportunity, but he has 72 hours to formulate his plan for training camp and preseason. He inherits the mess Babcock (and Kekäläinen) left. He didn’t create it, but it is now his problem and hopefully he is able to navigate through it.
I wish him luck. Thankfully for Blue Jackets players, Vincent doesn’t have the same reputation Babcock had. They shouldn’t have t0 worry about being intimated and can just focus on playing hockey.
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