Lockout Blues

Posted September 17, 2012

Here’s what I know about the NHL lockout:

It’s not Gary Bettman’s fault.

It isn’t really a shock to me that people believe that Gary Bettman is the cause of the lockout. He’s the face of NHL ownership. He’s paid to be blamed for the terrible things the owners do. And that’s exactly why this isn’t his fault. He’s a cipher. He has as much to do with the NHL lockout as me or you.

But the owners WANT you to blame Gary Bettman for all your troubles, because it absolves them of the blame that should be unabashedly heaped upon them for attempting to murder their own golden goose because it’s not giving them enough gold. It’s a league filled with owners like Craig Leipold, who signs Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to giant contracts, and then complains about how much he has to spend on players.

This is, and always has been, the nature of sports, and really, of all business owner/employee relationships since the beginning of time. Owners want to make as much money as they can as quickly as possible. Paying employees their market-value wage doesn’t help them do that. It was one of the roots of the Black Sox Scandal. Baseball owners have famously colluded multiple times throughout history in order to keep salaries down. The NFL is going through the same thing right now with their referees. It’s become even more a part of our culture in general over the last thirty years, as more and more manufacturing jobs have left this country, because companies figured out that instead of paying American workers a living wage, they can pay some kid 30 cents an hour to make electronics in the Phillippines.

The greater point is that THESE are the people you should be angry at, not Gary Bettman. They are the direct result of a business culture that values the individual more than the collective whole. They are the people that wrecked our economy, begged the Government to bail them out, and went right back to scamming people out of their money. The more time you spend Gary Bettman, or even better for them, deriding the players as being “greedy”, the more you are playing right into their withered old C. Montgomery Burns-like hands.

Conversely, the fans aren’t to blame either. No matter what Damien Cox thinks, the fans aren’t at fault for coming back when the lockout ends. I’ve written before that part of the “contract” fans make when watching sports is that they know and accept that there will be violence and violent acts. People will get injured and hurt, sometimes for life. In that same vein, you are going to have to put up with labor disputes. Football and basketball just had theirs. Baseball’s labor history is long and contentious and oft-times revolting. The deck is always stacked against fans, because the nature of sports and sports fandom is inherently irrational already. You are choosing to cheer and spend money and time on people you have never met (that are most likely the kids who attempted to stuff you in a trash can in high school and attempted to seduce your sister/girlfriend/mother at some point), in a game that doesn’t matter much in the overall grand scheme of life in all kinds of weather and terrible traffic with thousands and thousands of other people. You buy jerseys with other people’s names on the back and all sorts of other ridiculous merchandise, from car flags to beer coozys. Owners are going to take advantage of you, and there’s no way around that. The only way to avoid that is to stop being a fan of sports entirely, and if you love watching a game too much, which brings me to my last point:

I’ll still come back.

I love hockey. It’s been a part of my life since I was a kid. It’s helped me bond with my father and grow closer with my wife. It’s one of my eternal regrets that we weren’t financially secure enough so that I could play organized hockey. I will continue to consume an NHL product no matter how much I have to hold my nose to do so, because it’s the best hockey on the planet. And warts and all, I still love it. I love it enough that I will weather this lockout, and every other lockout. As much as it hurts me, and as sad as it makes me sometimes to do so, I’m not done with being a hockey fan yet.