TORONTO (Nov. 27) — Maybe I’m missing something here. But, I doubt it. On one side, we have a former Maple Leafs coach executing a callous mind game, after which penance was offered and accepted. On the other, we have a coach allegedly calling one of his players a “nigger.” From my perspective, that’s like comparing a domestic homicide to World War II. Both are terrible… but in an entirely different realm.
I have no comprehension as to why Mike Babcock has been dragged into the Bill Peters abomination. So, Peters worked under Babcock in Detroit. Are we to suggest that Babcock counseled him on the fine art of racial intolerance? Over and over, in the past couple of days, I’ve read that Peters was a “coaching disciple” of Babcock. Alright, then… if you wish to draw a correlation between Babcock’s propensity to intimidate his players and Peters’ habit of punching guys from behind while on the bench, go right ahead. Even that may be a stretch. But, offering a parallel between strong–arm coaching tactics and the use of the N–word? At any time and any place but, particularly, when addressing a black person? I’m sorry. It doesn’t compute. Not even remotely. And, to be honest, it’s Akim Aliu’s fault. Not only did it require ten years for him to reveal (on Twitter) the alleged incident, but Aliu offered the absurd coaching analogue at the start of his message.
BILL PETERS (LEFT) AND MIKE BABCOCK IN THEIR YEARS COACHING THE DETROIT RED WINGS. JANA CHYTILOVA GETTY IMAGES
“Not very surprising the things we’re hearing about Babcock,” he wrote, referring to the long–forgotten (until Monday) incident in which Babcock ambushed rookie Mitch Marner. “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Same sort of deal with his protege in YYC (Calgary). Dropped the N–bomb several times toward me in my rookie year because he didn’t like my choice of music.” How on earth did Babcock, no matter what you may think about him, deserve that connection? It’s disgusting. And, it restricts my capacity to feel for Aliu. No person should ever be the target of a racial epithet. But, it doesn’t excuse that person for his insensitivity. I’ll assume that Aliu didn’t intend to paint Babcock with a sectarian brush, yet he was remarkably flippant, and careless, in his Twitter observation. Without question, it warrants an apology, though I suspect Aliu — immersed in his own crusade, however justifiable — hasn’t considered that he may have hurt someone.
Even more disappointing, to me, is how the mainstream media has connected the dots.
In the Toronto Star, a column by Bruce Arthur is entitled: “Investigation into racial slurs could lead to a moment of truth, a moment of reckoning, for hockey in Canada and elsewhere.” In the Toronto Sun, a story by hockey writer Lance Hornby is headlined: “Coaching styles across NHL under scrutiny.” Both men offer salient points. But, again, why should it matter who utters the N-word — a coach; a doctor; a plumber; a grocery store clerk? Or, anyone else? In any situation? And why should a person, resulting from a former work alliance (Babcock hiring Peters as an assistant coach in Detroit), be tied to a racial outburst?
This is not, even parenthetically, an example of guilt by association.
If you’re old enough to remember, or have read about, the O.J. Simpson murder trial (January to October 1995), you’ll know that a slam–dunk double–homicide — with enough blood and physical evidence to convict 20 people — turned on the disclosure that an investigating officer used the N–word, many years before, in a completely unrelated context. Simpson’s lawyers, realizing they had no alternative, coerced a Los Angeles jury to believe that Mark Fuhrman had planted a bloody glove to frame their client. The notion was utterly preposterous, but criminal trials are bound to reasonable doubt and Johnnie Cochran’s “dream team” provided more than enough subterfuge. A man, therefore, that butchered two innocent people was set free.
That’s the incomparable force of the N-word — repulsive in our society beyond any outrage.
Never should it follow a person by inference. As with Mike Babcock. Shame on Akim Aliu.