Don Fehr and member of the NHLPA. (Getty Images)
So far in this lockout, the owners have been placed under a gag order by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. As a result, there have been very few cracks in their ranks and, regardless of whether or not you side with Bettman and the owners, they have basically been able to remain consistently on message.
The members of the NHL Players’ Association, meanwhile, have been free to speak their minds whenever they wish with the blessing of their leadership. And the results have been a disaster. Not only are schisms beginning to form (see Hamrlik, Roman), the players are coming across as a bunch of vindictive ingrates. From the boozy ramblings of a goon early in the lockout to David Bolland retweeting a fan’s death threat against Bettman, the players are embarrassing themselves more with every passing day.
That’s not to say we’re not in favor of democracy. After all, social media was the driving force behind the Arab Spring that resulted in the fall of governments in Egypt and Tunisia and led to other Middle East regimes being forced to be a little more humanitarian. When used properly, there’s little doubt social media can be empowering and effective.
That said, I’ve got to think there are a lot of people out there who would wish the players would just shut their cake holes. They’re certainly not doing anything to help the process or themselves, and they’re really, really not doing anything positive to engender support from the fan base.
And that’s odd because even though the players have acknowledged they had already lost this CBA battle before it even began, they should be handing the owners their lunch when it comes to garnering public sympathy. The owners have been heavy-handed and uncompromising when it comes to negotiating and are seeking to overhaul a system that was supposed to work for them. Any concessions the players have made have not been enough for the league. They’ve already basically agreed to take a haircut and all they ask for in return is the dollar value of the contracts they signed in good faith. Nothing wrong with that.
But still the players continue to turn the public against them with their proclamations. Here’s a little piece of advice for you, fellas. Hockey fans are jealous and spiteful. They resent the fact that you make outrageous amounts of money to do something they think they would do for free. As misguided as it is, they seem to think they would act differently if they were in your shoes.
That’s the reality. That’s why eyeballs roll and blood boils every time one of these guys complains about being oppressed. At their worst, tools such as Twitter are nothing but a bunch of white noise and a complete waste of everyone’s time. And when it comes to pleading their case during this lockout, the players are flooding the cyber universe with worthless nonsense.
Those of us who understand these things know that in order to play in the NHL, a player has to sacrifice and work to an extent that most reasonable people would find unacceptable. For the vast majority, their careers are short and unstable and can end abruptly with an injury or even a slight decline in level of play. For every guy who is making millions of dollars playing a kid’s game, there are countless others who have little or nothing to show for their years of sacrifice and effort. The players are the conduits that create the wealth for (many of) the owners and in that sense, they are not overpaid.
But the perception they are overpaid will never, ever change. That’s the primary reason why the owners have generated any support for their cause in the first place. You could certainly argue that the sports world is the only venue in which the employees receive less support for their cause than the employer. (Actually, being married to a teacher, I can say that the public perception of that profession is they are a bunch of fat cats who work from 9 to 3 and get summers off. I have yet to meet a teacher who fits that profile.)
Players might want to keep that in mind the next time they go to their computer or phone to vent their anger with the rest of the world. There’s nothing to be gained by wishing Bettman dead or complaining about missing paychecks. Winston Churchill once said the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. Sadly, he was right.
So perhaps it might be time for the NHLPA leadership to suggest its members keep quiet. At the very least, toning down the rhetoric would be a step in the right direction.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.