It started with a brief stop at the soon-to-be-defunct NBC Sports Network. Now Mike Babcock has taken his talents to his home province of Saskatoon, graciously taking the job at the University of Saskatchewan for reportedly no pay (of course while still receiving a handsome amount of money from the Toronto Maple Leafs) to be their head coach. All the while, Babcock continues to control his own narrative, and a sycophantic press apparently can’t wait to write pieces that paint him as something other than what he is: A bully and a liar.
Part of me almost admires the rather Machiavellian nature of it all. And that, my friends, is the last nice thing I wish to say about Mike Babcock.
This is all going according to plan. Babcock reached out to NBCSN to snag that analyst gig, over a year since his ouster from Toronto and the stories and accusations that saw him shunned (and rightfully so) from the NHL. He knew this was about the only avenue open to him as there were no teams willing to bring him aboard in light of the damning accusations. Shortly thereafter, image rehabilitation came in the form of Pierre LeBrun and his shockingly weak interview piece with the disgraced former coach.
He’s now looking forward to his new part-time gig with NBC starting Sunday, his re-entry into the NHL spotlight after being fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. It’s also why he is breaking his silence, agreeing to his first interview since his dismissal in November 2019. The timing is finally right.
“I had planned in my mind that I was going to take a year away (from the media spotlight), that I wasn’t going to talk,’’ Babcock said.
Not long after his firing, stories accusing Babcock of abusive, bullying behavior started to come out.
Well, the stories had been out there, we just finally chose to listen.
The one, of course, that really stood out was when Babcock reportedly had then-rookie Mitchell Marner write a list ranking his teammates. Marner reluctantly complied, and then Babcock shared the list with the players Marner had ranked at the bottom.
Not so, according to Babcock. According to LeBrun’s sunny, hagiographic piece. Babcock says that’s not how it happened.
Babcock said when he confirmed to Darren Dreger and Elliotte Friedman that the Marner incident had indeed occurred, he didn’t realize the version of it that was out there.
“The story wasn’t right,’’ Babcock said. “In the end, though, you do lots of things over 32 years as a coach that you’d like to have back. Have you ever had a conversation with your wife when two words come out of your mouth and you’d like to reach with your arms and pull the words back?
The way Babs says it went, it was just an “oops” on his part, totally unintentional. He goes on to say he immediately went to Marner to admit what he had done, and informed management what had happened (in fairness, Marner did say Babcock apologized shortly after everything went down).
This version of events does a fantastic job of painting a narrative where Babcock doesn’t have to take ownership of a cruel action he took against a rookie that drew universal criticism once it became public. It’s all well and good, except I don’t believe a word of it, nor do I buy his extremely lame excuse as to why he didn’t offer this “clarification” when contacted by two very well-respected hockey scribes to confirm the event in question.
And while I really wish I didn’t feel the need to include Donald Trump in a hockey blog entry, this feels very much like something Trump and his cronies did during his time in office. Bend the truth, soften the nature of the crime, escape culpability.
And really, who could blame him for utilizing such a tactic? It works, especially when using a press that refuses to push back against blatant lies and half-truths. The media repeatedly failed to say Donald Trump lied. They artfully avoided that word for years. An outgoing editor of The Washington Post admitted his own publication and their counterparts failed to hold Trump accountable. And in this piece, LeBrun offers no pushback whatsoever to Babcock’s unique recollection of events.
Babcock addresses accusations from another former player, Johan Franzen. Or rather, he fails to do so. Instead of confronting those accusations, Babs whines about his own hurt feelings.
“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 …’”
LeBrun not only fails to challenge Babcock on his artful dodge here, he dives right in with a paragraph about the coach’s work in raising mental health awareness…as if that work absolves him of any behavior that contributed to Franzen’s later struggles with mental health.
So here’s another page out of the Trump/Mediocre White Guy Playbook. When confronted, make yourself the aggrieved party. Play the victim. Garner sympathy. It’s a tactic that’s effective, and LeBrun is all too happy to lend a helping hand.
But while Pierre LeBrun served up a lazy, perfunctory piece on Babcock, Luke Fox over at Sportsnet is ready to let you know that the sun in Saskatchewan shines directly out of Babcock’s butt. Or at least it would shine if Fox himself wasn’t already camped out up there.
Fresh with the fluffiest of fluff pieces that literally refers to Babcock as “the golden farm boy,” Fox simply can’t wait to polish Babcock’s tarnished image with his own tongue.
I mean…check out this quote.
He touched on the past but focused on the future. He casually referred to the NHL as the “Income Tax League,” which is a good line. And he boasted about his upcoming golf trip to the desert.
Luke, why do you need to tell me it’s a good line? Why can’t I make that determination for myself?
It gets worse.
Babcock gets to deploy yet another White Guy Weapon: My Wife And Kids. In using it, the family becomes a convenient shield against any sort of accusations of aberrant behavior. Representative Ted Yoho utilized this defense during his non-apology to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the new Saskatchewan Huskies coach invokes it in more blatant terms here.
“You can’t have the wife I have and the kids I have and the family I have without being a good human being. I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever. I always said to people when I went to Toronto, ‘I got half my salary for coaching the team and half my salary for getting whacked.’”
This one is also combined with yet another “Poor Me” defense. The press in Toronto was just too tough on him. Of course, this very same press, many of whom work out of Toronto, are providing The Golden Farm Boy with the platform and platitudes he needs in order to force his way back onto the stage he really desires.
Babcock goes on to say something that ends up in the very headline of Fox’s piece: “Something doesn’t add up.” Indeed, the inflated opinion Babs has of himself certainly does not fit the ugly reality that was revealed roughly fourteen months ago. It doesn’t jive with the stories and anecdotes shared by former NHL players Franzen and Mike Commodore, and also later confirmed by Chris Chelios.
But to a guy like Babcock, and others of his ilk, the truth is merely a speed bump, and he’s steering his narrative right around it.
I should be fair to Fox insofar that he does go on to write that the Marner list incident “looks indefensible” and that Babcock avoided the words “Marner,” “Franzen,” and “sorry.” But this isn’t nearly enough pushback, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to erase the icky fawning Fox lavishes upon his subject.
The truth is, hockey media appears all too ready to welcome Babcock back into the NHL. A blink-and-you-missed-it stint at a dying sports network, and now a “volunteer” opportunity coaching at his alma mater. All the while he gets TV and print media to serve as his mouthpiece and spew whatever drivel he needs to get himself back behind an NHL bench. It’s all a carefully-orchestrated plan, and it appears that it’s working perfectly thus far.
To conclude, do I think Mike Babcock in the same way I do Donald Trump? No, of course not. But it can’t be denied that they’ve both engaged similar tactics to control their own public images, whether it’s a bending of the truth, or a persecution complex, Mike Babcock is using these tactics that the former president used effectively (and still is).
To be clear, I don’t think Mike Babcock necessarily needs to be banished from hockey indefinitely. That call is ultimately not mine to make. But I would like, at the very least, for some of these journalists who cover the game to make guys like Babcock at least work a little for their redemption. At the very least, force a man like this to fully address what happened, what he did, and fully account for it without reverting to gaslighting the whole thing into oblivion. Babcock has not made any real effort toward true contrition. His only efforts have been fully aimed at the rehabilitation of his image, and the further sullying of those he believes slighted him.
I embarrassed myself a little while back on a hockey discussion forum while getting into a heated debate concerning disgraced former Arizona Coyotes draft pick Mitchell Miller. I mixed up the words “contrition” and “attrition.” Contrition is, of course, the one thing Mike Babcock has yet to truly display while on this whirlwind reputation rehabilitation tour. Attrition, as the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary would tell you, is defined as “the act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack.”
Well, Mike Babcock is certainly engaging in a war of attrition, doing everything he can to gaslight everyone and skewing the narrative to his advantage. It’s working, and by failing to hold him accountable, he avoids any further need for contrition. I certainly hope other scribes and/or talking heads who have platforms comparable to The Athletic and Sportsnet don’t let him get away with it.