Bring back the Jets? We need to get our priorities straight.
Until recently, I had been reveling in the possibility of the return of the Jets – my hope increasing bit by bit, one central Arizonian sub-prime foreclosure at a time. I grew up going to Jets games with my dad. I grew up playing hockey, and I still do.
But we need to look around our city. There are thousands of youth who are growing up who will never get the chance to play hockey – or any organized sport. Not only are they missing out on the confidence, teamwork, and discipline that sport teaches – they’re getting sucked into gangs instead.
I work with youth in the North End. I’ve seen it happen.
But I’ve also seen “at-risk” youth jumping and celebrating after their team scored in overtime in the playoffs of their local floor hockey league. Instead of youth with “discipline problems” at school, they looked more like “teammates,” “athletes” and “winners” to me.
We need to remember whom hockey is really for. It’s for the kids. It’s for the goalie that wants to grow up and be Martin Brodeur. It’s for the youth who scores her team’s game-winning goal. It’s about hearing your mom or dad say, “Great game!” Winnipeg’s youth need this – whether they live in Whyte Ridge or the North End.
If they come back, maybe this time around the Jets won’t need tax breaks or millions of dollars to build a new arena. But they will need 15,000 of us to spend somewhere between $50 and $140 on tickets 41 nights a year – plus parking, concessions and all the other economic spin-offs we are expected to generate.
“ What if instead of giving $80 per ticket to a billionaire to watch hockey played by millionaires, we decided that every kid in Winnipeg would have the chance to play hockey?
Can we afford this? I don’t know, but I do know that many families can’t afford the $500 to $2,000 (depending on the league, type of equipment, etc.) it takes to play minor hockey in this city – never mind the obstacles faced by youth who live in strained or broken family situations.
What if instead of giving $80 per ticket to a billionaire to watch hockey played by millionaires, we decided that every kid in Winnipeg would have the chance to play hockey?
What if we built more rinks and community centres, or decided to coach the youth in our neighborhoods?
What if we supported or got involved in grassroots leagues that allow all youth to play hockey?
If we can support an NHL payroll of $56.8 million, which is the current NHL salary cap, then we can certainly do some amazing things for the youth in our city.
Part of me still wants to see NHL hockey back in Winnipeg, if for no other reason than to see what everybody does with the Oilers and Canucks jerseys they’ve bought since 1996.
But we need to consider what’s more important: entertainment for the wealthy or the chance to build confidence, fun and hope in our youth.
We need to put our giddiness aside and get our priorities straight.
Michael Friesen is a recent graduate of Canadian Mennonite University