The mass exodus of respect

NHL administration and players disrespect fans with another lockout

The MTS Centre will remain empty this season unless the NHL and its players can come to an agreement and end the lockout. COLIN VANDENBERG/UNITER ARCHIVES

Like many hockey fans in Winnipeg, I’m trying to figure out how to justify eating wings and drinking beer three nights a week with no National Hockey League (NHL) season for the foreseeable future.

But the more articles I read and the more SportsCentre I watch, the more frustrated I get.

Not so much with the lockout itself, as I understand that it’s a battle of the one per cent fighting over huge money and power in a bloated-ego league, but with the attitudes of those at the heart of it all.

With over 50 players signing contracts with more than 30 different clubs overseas just days after the league locked them out on Sept. 15, I’m finding it hard to believe that they truly want to fix the problems that exist, as many of them state in the NHL Players’ Assocation’s (NHLPA) message to fans posted the next day.

Clips of heavyweights like Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby were cut in between black-and-white celebratory and inspirational images of Stanley Cup-winning goals and phenomenal saves to plead their case to the fans.

“We’re working hard at getting back to the point where things are simple and we can just get back to playing hockey,” Toews explains sympathetically.

Well, you might be, Johnny. But your band of million-dollar brothers sure isn’t.

As of last week, nearly 90 players had signed lockout contracts with teams in a number of countries including Russia, Sweden, Finland and Czech Republic. Even four of our own Winnipeg Jets have flown the coop.

To me, these players have a new agenda.

They aren’t standing behind NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr at press conferences anymore. They aren’t practicing on local rinks to make sure they’re ready when everyone finally agrees on how to cut up the multi-billion dollar pie that is the NHL annual revenue. They’ve signed new contracts to play in front of new fans.
Some are staying closer to home, but I feel that as time goes on, many more players will jump across the pond and into new jerseys.

This isn’t loving the game or committing to solving its problems. This is taking the fans, who directly fund their paycheques, for granted.

This is not respecting or appreciating the fans. This isn’t loving the game or committing to solving its problems. This is taking the fans, who directly fund their paycheques, for granted and assuming that they will be in arena seats across North America when everything is eventually resolved.

And most will - which is a huge part of the problem.

Fans, who don’t have a seat at the table to start with, give up all of their bargaining power in this debate when we come crawling back after every drawn-out lockout.

We never say enough is enough and start watching cricket. We buy the tickets, the HD package and the merchandise. We never make our voices heard because we are the ones who really do love the game.

We don’t get paid for it, we pay to see it. And we continue to do so regardless of how much the league and the players disrespect us in the process.

The league clearly isn’t an innocent bystander in this public relations campaign of a lockout either. Just last week, the NHL announced that it had lost $100 million in revenue from the cancellation of the 2012-13 preseason. Unfortunately, that is the consequence of locking out your players and clearly refusing to compromise accordingly to find a solution.

Actions, undoubtedly, speak louder than words. The NHL players who have left to play for new teams are telling their NHL fans they truly do only care about money - regardless of what they say in a YouTube video.

The league, via their commissioner Gary Bettman, has disrespected fans with smug comments to the media about the fans being the reason the NHL rebounded so well after the last lockout when the entire 2004-05 season was lost. You bet we are, Bettman.

Though we might rant and rave about selfish players and a terribly run league over the next year or however long the lockout lasts, we will still be NHL fans whenever there again is a game to watch, beer to drink and wings to eat. Respect or not.

Kristy Rydz is an editor in Winnipeg who loves Sleeman Honey Brown, honey hot wings and the Winnipeg Jets. She can’t stand Gary Bettman.

Published in Volume 67, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 11, 2012)

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