I would normally take great pleasure in the downfall of the Ottawa Senators — a team I live to see lose to the Leafs. But this week I think I’ve managed to find it in my ice cold blue and white heart to actually feel a little sorry for the Sens. How else can you feel for a group of guys who have been filmed without their knowledge or consent talking major smack about their coach and their poorly performing team in the back seat of an Uber?
If you haven’t seen the leaked video yet, which appears to be a recording from a camera mounted on the driver’s dash — here’s a replay: seven pro hockey players are stuffed like sardines into an SUV where they proceed to dis for nearly five minutes straight, Ottawa Senators assistant coach Martin Raymond and the team’s struggling defence. In the words of Sens forward Matt Duchene, captured on a dashboard camera chirping Raymond from the back seat: “Marty Raymond, the only coach in NHL history to have the worst power-play and the worst (penalty kill) within a calendar year.” Duchene can also be heard admitting on tape that he hasn’t paid attention to Raymond’s tutelage in team meetings “for three weeks.” Wanna bet he’s paying attention now?
The Sens in the video have since exited the bugged Uber and entered a state of damage control. The players involved, including Matt Duchene, Thomas Chabot, Dylan DeMelo, Alex Formenton, Chris Wideman, Colin White, and Chris Tierney, released the following statement this week:
“We want to apologize publicly to Marty Raymond, our teammates and coaches for our comments in Phoenix Arizona on October 29. Our private conversation was recorded without our knowledge or consent. We’re passionate about our team, and focusing on growing together. We are grateful for the support of our fans and organization. This is an important learning experience, and we will do better.”
But this should be an important learning experience for all of us — pro athlete and average citizen alike. Most media attention is focused right now on politics within the Senators organization itself. How is morale in the dressing room? How will the team move forward from this? And who doesn’t dis his boss every once in a while? What’s the big deal? These are all important questions but they don’t address the bigger picture. The bigger picture being the fact these surreptitious recordings aren’t just a problem for disgruntled NHL players and celebs, nor even merely for people who use Uber. They’re a big problem for everyone in a culture that has embraced surveillance as warmly as we have. Not only do we allow ourselves to be recorded and examined by corporations in exchange for the convenience of life with smartphone technology. We surreptitiously record and upload content to social media everyday without obtaining consent from the strangers we are documenting.
The plus side to this new norm is that immoral people are often exposed for what they are. In recent years and months, thanks to surreptitious video recordings we’ve seen dozens of racists held to account for saying and doing heinous things in public (for example calling the cops on Black people for no conceivable reason other than sheer bigotry). But the downside to this, if you spend any time on Instagram, is the reality that it is now totally common to surreptitiously photograph and film strangers in public life without their consent not merely in the name of social justice, but for mere kicks. Just type the words “Gym Fail” into Instagram and behold for your viewing pleasure: thousands of video clips of oblivious people wiping out on a variety of exercise machines. There are most likely thousands of aspirational weight lifters walking this planet right now who have no clue that some guy at the gym recorded their failed barbell squat attempt and shared it in real time with his entire online community.
The same surveillance trend holds for bad fashion, bad dancing, talking loudly on public transit, chewing loudly at a restaurant. You get the picture. Famous or not, if you’re a person doing something mildly of the ordinary in a public place — this includes the back of a car — you are potential content. It’s a little hypocritical then for us to express shock at the Senators Uber cam incident when we aren’t exactly great protectors of privacy ourselves.
On Monday night, Rob Khazzam, Uber Canada’s general manager tweeted the following, presumably about the Senators incident: “A video was released by the media today of several Uber passengers being filmed without their consent while having a private discussion during a trip in Phoenix. This is a clear violation of our terms of service.”
Unfortunately it isn’t a clear violation of social norms.
To make a long story short, if you’re in an Uber on the way home from the office, ask your driver to turn on the radio — and shut up.
Emma Teitel is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @emmaroseteitel