By Jason Menard
For a while last night, I thought it was time to change my contact lenses because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Yet, there it was, flickering right on my TV screen. I now know what adding insult to injury actually looks like.
Those of us who watched Thursday’s broadcast of the hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers were subjected to the sight of the boys from Broadway taking the ice with jerseys bearing the message “Thank You” replacing the customary “New York” lettering.
In an attempt to suck up to fans at all costs, the league has turned it into a dog and pony show – and the sentiments ring hollow.
We know, no matter how much lip service the players pay to being happy to be back, they’re still smarting from the repeated slaps in the face they took during the lockout. “Our boys” found out that our support has its limits and they were genuinely shocked when most fans supported the owners in the labour dispute.
So now these alpha males have come back with their tails firmly between their legs, making the best of a bad situation. And, instead of allowing for a graceful return, the league has decided to rub a little more salt in the still-festering wound. The obviously staged, and eminently hollow, act of wearing “Thank You” jerseys does nothing more than add another side order of shame that the players have to swallow – adding to the already heaping helping of humble pie they’ve been forced to stomach through the negotiation of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Whether it’s “Thank You” emblazoned across the players’ chests, messages expressing the league’s gratitude prominently painted on the ice, or any other displays of affection, we fans aren’t buying it. Aside from a select few naïve people, most hockey fans know that the game we love is actually a business. We know that there are millions upon billions of dollars changing hands. And, although we may not like it, we know that the lockout was just a part of doing business, however unsavoury it may have been.
But it’s becoming more and more apparent that fans are willing to let bygones be bygones. Starting with the circus-like free agency period, to the drama of the entry draft and the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes, to the establishment of new rules (and commitment to enforcing old ones) designed to make the game more entertaining, fans have embraced the excitement of the new season and are eager to get on with our lives.
We’ve accepted the lockout as a necessary evil – an action that the league had to take to maintain the long-term viability of the league and to restore competitive financial balance so that we won’t have to face the loss of another Winnipeg or Quebec City. But we certainly don’t want to be reminded of it on a daily basis.
If the players and the league truly want to show us how much they appreciate our patronage, then they need to do it in the only way that matters – on the ice through effort, intensity, and talent. Thank us by playing hard each and every night. Thank us by displaying the combination of grace, skill, and toughness that makes hockey the most exciting game on Earth.
If they’re really thankful for the fans’ support in returning to the rinks, then take the extra time to get to know your admirers. Sign a few more autographs (without it having to be mandated), make yourself more available to the media for interviews (as this is the only way many fans get to know you), and give the fans the respect they deserve as being the reason behind the lifestyle you live.
And the responsibility to acknowledge the fans isn’t the players’ alone. It’s not enough for the owners to spend a few bucks on new sweaters or a new paint job and call it a day. If they’re truly thankful, as they should be, for fans support, then they need to make a concerted outreach to the fans through spending the money to make attending a game a valued event. Spend the money under the cap to keep teams together and build fan affinity. They need to make more than just a cosmetic display of gratitude.
Nobody likes a suck-up – especially when the motivation for this sycophantic activity appears to be so transparent and false. In large part, the fans are back and the best thank you we as fans can receive would be good, honest effort – both on the ice and off.
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