There are people, presumably boomers, who think it was an overreaction to essentially fire a head coach just for looking through somebody’s phone. “These boys today,” they say, probably. “They’re too soft, too woke. And they all have that perm front-puff hairstyle. What’s the big deal with going through someone’s phone?”
The big deal is you don’t go through someone’s phone. You just don’t do it.
When journalists or people with sensitive information are traveling, they’re encouraged to disable fingerprint and face identification features on their phones. That way, unauthorized people can’t get access to all that sensitive information without a passcode. At the same time, a growing amount of case law says that the Fifth Amendment prevents law enforcement from forcing you to unlock your phone. Which is all to say that there’s private stuff on your phone — even if you’re not a hotshot journalist, intrepid whisteblower, or petty criminal.
Your phone is packed with stuff you might not want to share. It’s your personal diary, your ledger, your wall-safe hidden behind your oil painting of a sailboat. Let’s imagine a fake person. Let’s call him Not Peter Hassett. On Not Peter Hassett’s phone, you may find:
Sharing some of of these things could be funny. Sharing some of these things could be mildly embarrassing. Some could be harassment. Some could be crimes. Ted Lasso understood this:
Having this information requested and seen by a person who has power over you, like the head coach of your professional sport team, transforms the dynamic. We like to imagine coaches as mentors who benevolently mold the character of young people. That was true for me, but it can be different at the pro level, where the coach is also the person who can determine if your career ends at $500 a week in the QMJHL or if you’ll make $30 million by the time you’re thirty, like Boone Jenner did. Jenner was rich and secure when he said the Babcock situation was “blown out of proportion.” That’s a fine perspective for an individual to have, but it’s one that doesn’t take into account the material concerns and power dynamics at play.
From a position of power, Babcock made players feel precarious. It’s the same thing he did in 2017, when he asked then-rookie Mitch Marner to confidentially rank his teammates by their levels of effort — and then shared the list with those named players. Babcock has a pattern of using the leverage of his power to make his subordinates feel insecure. Real R. Lee Ermey drill sergeant stuff.
And this is essentially what Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wanted when he hired Babcock. In May, a former coach told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that the Blue Jackets “were looking for a coach who isn’t afraid of players.” They got it. They got a coach who makes players afraid instead. Babcock’s reputation for being domineering was under his ‘pros’ column, not the ‘cons.’ This week Kekalainen himself sanctioned Babcock’s behavior, telling the press, “personally I had no problem with it, but I can understand that it could put somebody in an uncomfortable and awkward situation.”
Back in May, Portzline said that hiring Babcock was an indication of “how much risk [the Blue Jackets were] willing to assume to get this hire right.” They did not get the hire right. It flamed out in scandal before even one game was played — but this was what Jarmo invited when he hired a toxic guy to do a job toxically. He thinks the problem was in the feelings, the awkwardness, the discomfort — not the bullying.
“I do not believe there were any ill intentions on Mike’s part in the way he conducted interviews with our players to get to know them,” Kekalainen told the press on Monday. “However, whether there was intent or not, some of our players weren’t comfortable with his methods and that was concerning.”
Meanwhile, team president John Davidson seems to see it differently. “We got [the hiring] wrong and that’s on us,” Davidson said. There seems to be a gap between how the president and the general manager see the situation. One owns the mistake, the other is determined to keep proudly stomping on the same rake over and over again. He doesn’t get it, and he never will. You just don’t go through somebody’s phone.
Headline photo: Warner Bros, Columbus Blue Jackets/YouTube
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