I was late having the opportunity to edit this piece, so apologies for the typographical errors that were in place when this post first went up. I've now tried to eliminate at least some!
****Let me start today by saying I won’t be commenting regularly on the NHL negotiations. My comments today are my own—likely un-informed—opinion. Don’t expect a well-thought out analysis. This isn’t my “job”. These are simply the musings of an everyday fan. I well understand others share different perspectives…
(Self-editing note: I penned a piece during the last lockout along the lines of why the players were "losing" fans like me. If anyone was interested, I can forward a link...)
That’s all true. And we have seen this movie many times before, in all big-time professional sports. They seemingly can’t help themselves. It is their “fault”, largely. And no one ever forces them to spend silly money on any particular player. Every year, it just takes one owner to break the bank and logic flies out the window. (Alexander Semin somehow gets 7 million dollars, but at least it's for only one year...)
Oh, they face “pressure”, sure, from their constituency, notably fans who want their team to do well, and that often requires investing money in good hockey players, to state the obvious.
I’m not so much talking about this particular set of NHL labour negotiations, though I don't doubt things will turn nasty at some point. You would think “billionaires and millionaires” could indeed find an equitable way to cut up the revenue pie that they get from our pockets (we should make no mistake, all of us as fans contribute in one way or another to the multi-billion dollar pot at the end of the huge revenue rainbow). They always eventually do. Sometimes it costs the sport a World Series or an entire NHL playoff spring, but fans get over it and start paying to support the entire process all over again. Our bad.
I admire a lot of athletes, especially the ones with real character (not the phony ones who come across as nice but are jerks behind the scenes). Many work insanely long and hard to achieve success in sports. They risk and suffer injury. They have relatively short careers. And they are awfully good at what they do.
But there’s the thing, for me: just like the owners don’t have to spend “stupid” money, these athletes also don’t “have” to become athletes. They don’t have to assume the injury risks. They could do something else with their lives.
But in what other walk of life could the vast majority of these individuals make, say, 5% of what they make as professional athletes?
You often hear athletes say, “I have to take care of my family…”. Understood. We all do. But Drew Brees, after signing for, what, 100 million over five years…he can take care of his “family” for the next several generations. That’s a very different definition of taking care of your family than what most people face.
Don’t get me wrong. Corporate greed has always been—and remains—unconscionable. CEO’s who make ghastly amounts of money, plus bonuses, share options, perks, etc. demonstrate their own kind of greed. It’s beyond my comprehension that this is the way things still are.
But athletes have become awfully entitled, too. When I hear baseball pitchers say, “I want to know what I’m worth…” as a free-agent, it just makes me cringe. Do these guys really and truly think they are “worth” 25 million dollars a year? When was the last time a second-baseman performed life-saving surgery? But we complain that physicians make too much.
And athletes get paid whether they play or not. Wow.
I’ve worked professionally with enough athletes and former athletes, and spoken with enough people in that field to know that it's a huge adjustment when their careers are over. They are pampered from a very early age. This carries on to a sense of absolute entitlement as they become more “successful” and wealthy. They never have to stand in line. Everyone wants to give them free stuff. They receive more adulation in one day than most people could receive in several lifetimes.
Back to Drew Brees: you would have thought the guy was hurt and insulted (he actually was) that the Saints were not just automatically coughing up this ridiculous amount of money. (I could maybe be a little more understanding if these modern-day NFL players made sure the old-time players who played for peanuts—maybe of whom can no longer look after themselves in our inflationary world—were better taken care of by the rich modern-day players; but most of today’s players couldn’t care less. It was the old-time players who created the foundation for the massive salaries today's athletes make.)
How many times have we heard athletes say they were “insulted” by the team’s offer. Insulted by being offered, say, 20 million dollars over three seasons? Amazing. Some of these people have lost touch with something.
And this is why I have little time for these negotiations. I don’t plan on writing about this subject again. I love sport, appreciate hockey, but never enjoy having the fact that I’m only a “fan” essentially thrown in my face by two overwhelmingly greedy sides in a so-called “labour” dispute. These owners are fabulously wealthy. These players have privilege and freedoms that their predecessors could only dream of. They are given freebies galore, food, lodging, transportation, support services, career counseling—in addition to unbelievably high salaries. Many will never need to “work” again.
That’s fine. Sports entertainment happens to be one of the fields that allows for massive incomes. But I don’t need or want to hear the day-to-day whining that we were subjected to in 2005 or whenever it was. That was phony on both sides—and painful.
Speaking of 2005—I recall listening to U.S. hockey commentators, as that “lockout” dragged on, saying it would be difficult for a number of American markets to rebound. The further we went with no hockey, people just didn’t care, they said.
On that note, some of you may have read the piece I posted the other day here on markets that wouldn't even miss their NHL team if the franchise left. Can you imagine what another protracted strike/lockout would do in places like Carolina (a real hockey hotbed, eh?), Florida, Phoenix and Columbus? Honestly, how many “fans” would really care in markets where hockey is maybe 5th or 6th on the list of sports entertainment priorities, behind WWE wrestling and local high school football?
If both these parties are so stupid as to allow another work stoppage or whatever we want to call it this time, go for it. It won’t kill the sport in Toronto, or in Canada. And it won’t even kill hockey in the United States. You can’t really “kill” something that is barely noticeable on the landscape, anyway.
But whatever these two parties do, I can’t believe I’m the only one that wishes that, for starters, they would just do their job. In 2005 we were inundated with “spin”, message control, media manipulation, intentional and well-timed “leaks” and all kinds of silliness. It was like a very public and nasty Hollywood divorce.
Don’t bother this time. I couldn’t care less. I truly couldn’t. I have no use for greed, corporate or individual.
I “support” the owners only in the sense that without someone taking the risk and footing the bill, there is no game. The players could try to make the same claim (that there is no sport without the players) but they can’t, really. There are always athletes who would replace them, or play for less, eventually, just for the shot at playing professionally. But you can’t always find capable owners. (Just ask Gary Bettman, who has brought on board some wonderful characters…)
And one last comment about my opening paragraph, which conceded owners make mistakes and can’t help themselves. It’s true, but since they are not allowed to “collude” (and I still think they should be allowed to establish contractual parameters like 5 year limits…that’s just good business practice. Why is it collusion and why must it be negotiated—it’s their league) to ensure salaries stay within reason, they are stuck. These owners are competitive people. They want to see the team they own “win”. If they don’t spend, fans go crazy and criticize them. So they cough up big money trying to build a better team and win- and then are criticized for spending crazy amounts of money.
We say they can’t have it both ways, but then neither can we, as fans.
And neither can the players.
Look at how NHL players have joined NFL, baseball and NBA guys in demanding the most they can possibly extract from ownership. Then, many of them complain because their team is no good. They want to be traded to a “contender”. Well, maybe if they didn’t have to make 10 million a year or whatever, the organization would be able to build a more balanced team around them (say hello, Shea Weber...). But the stars rarely care about that when they are signing their own deal—only afterwards.
As for the NHL talks, my sentiment is simple: Call me when it’s over.
The hypocrisy drives me crazy. I’ve said my piece. Again, I’m sure many of you strongly disagree and as always, feel free to drop your comments in the box. Just be respectful!