I had a Social Studies teacher in high school that was not a sports fan, and took issue with some of the ludicrous salaries paid to professional athletes. One day we discussed the topic, and my argument in favour of paying the hundreds of millions of dollars to these people (a good number of whom shouldn’t have graduated high school) was this: Sports is big business. People pay to see it, so there is money to be made. It’s only a matter of who gets that money.
Who would you rather give your money to – the people responsible for the product you enjoy, or the owners of the teams? You know, the same owners that were too stupid to read the agreement they signed.
Owners of sports teams (for the most part) fall somewhere on the spectrum between diabolical and incompetent. If the last hundred years of North American pro sports has taught us anything, it’s that owners would sell their own mother to a rival team for a 5% increase to their profits. They are (again, for the most part) greedy, selfish, and incomprehensibly brainless, which is a dangerous combination.
“So what,” I hear you scoffing at your screen, “The commissioners of the leagues are to blame. After all, they’re the leaders.”
That’s not how this works.
Commissioners in the modern day, such as Gary Bettman, have one job: to represent the interests of the owners. If they fail in that one directive, the owners will fire them and find someone else. The fact that Gary has kept his job for 27 years is downright impressive.
So while the NHL seems unlikely to play hockey this decade, it’s important to remember that it’s not Gary’s fault. Gary was not the one that agreed to extend the new Collective Bargaining Agreement without reading the fineprint. That was the owners. Gary wasn’t the one that asked the players to take a pay cut on top of the pay cut that was already agreed to. That too, was the owners. Gary didn’t push a salary cap, or eliminate NHL Olympic Participation, or implement an ‘anti-Canadian’ agenda.
It. Was. The. Owners.
Let’s talk about what Gary Bettman did do. He championed a program that gave assistance to the teams in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa while they were struggling in the late ’90s. Hell, Bettman can be given quite a lot of credit for keeping the Oilers in Edmonton after a Houston-based billionaire made a bid for the team in 1998. Bettman is responsible for the Sportsnet and NBC TV Deals, which in addition to making the league piles of money, has vastly increased hockey’s exposure in the United States.
While I will continue to participate in booing Mr. Bettman (it’s tradition), I am a firm believer that his impact on the league in over two decades has been a net positive. For all we know, he’s probably keeping some of the league’s most eccentric owners in check. He is adamant that all 31 teams play hockey in some form this season.
So let’s lay off of Gary. If anything, he deserves our begrudging respect. Let’s put the real villains on blast. If you have a problem, take it up with the owners.