Racism in sports is bad, can we all agree? Neo-Nazis in Germany. Monkey chants at Spanish soccer matches. So why is it hard to muster up too much outrage over a claim that a Canadian coach is biased against American hockey players?
Jeremy Roenick claims that Red Wings coach Mike Babcock dislikes American players, specifically Chris Chelios, and that his prejudice manifests in reduced playing time for the veteran defenseman. It’s a pretty heavy charge, and one that could affect the coach’s career, but as Babcock says, “The operative phrase here is ‘JR said’.”
Roenick made the statements on a Chicago-area sports talk show:
“The coach just doesn’t like him for some ungodly known reason, I think he’s got a grudge against American players, but he does not like Cheli at all,” Roenick said. “There is an underlying, I don’t know if it’s a hatred, because hatred is a strong word. But there is some underlying issue there that I don’t understand.”
Roenick continued: “If you’d know some of the things that Babcock says to Chris Chelios, it would make your stomach churn. Just total disrespect for not even just one of the best Americans, but one of the best defensemen to ever play the game. The way he is talked to is just unacceptable. I wish I could elaborate, but that’s not proper. It’s just disrespectful.”
Babcock had the expected reaction, saying, “We keep signing Chelios because we think he’s an important part of the team.”
And fellow American defenseman Brian Rafalski comes to coach’s aid, with “Yeah, sure, he doesn’t like me. He only lets me play with Nicklas Lidstrom, the Norris Trophy-winner.”
And, as has been pointed out, maybe the real reason for Chelios’ reduced playing time might be the fact that he’s 47 years old with noticeably declining skills. Babcock’s about to get his team to the Stanley Cup Finals. Again. I think he’s more concerned with what’s best for the team.
And the final nail in the coffin for Roenick’s argument comes from Chelios himself:
“How does JR know anything — is he playing? The last time I talked to JR was a few weeks ago, and it was about his charity pool party in Vegas. I don’t know what JR is talking about.”