By Jason Menard
In many cases, image is truth – and we have been witness to a tale of two realities of late.
October 12, Helena Rudy crosses a picket line in Toronto her path obstructed by an angry mob gathered around to intimidate her into joining fellow strikers. A chorus of “Scab, scab, scab” seemingly keeping time with each impeded footfall.
October 13, the first of many NHL games are officially missed due to the lockout. Yet there are no grand displays. Not with a bang, but with a whisper are these games lost. And where are the players? Why are they not standing at the gates of arenas across North America, showing that they want to get in to ply their trade?
Why is Helena Rudy vilified for making the difficult decision to cross a picket line to do her job, while we seem to have no resentment for NHL players choosing to take the path of least resistance in heading overseas to play in European leagues?
Why will Helena Rudy have to deal with the ramifications of her actions for years to come? Why will she be subject to being ostracized by her peers? Why will she endure the sideways glances and comments made under breath as retribution for her action? Why will NHL players, when this labour impasse has ended, be welcomed with opened arms? Their actions forgotten in the collective joy of a return to the ice?
Why is solidarity so important for one group of employees – to the point of attaching social stigma to one who breaks ranks – while it’s almost an afterthought to the other, far-more-affluent, group?
Image is everything in our society. The major battles in the NHL labour war have not been fought over the future of the game, but rather they have been skirmishes to win fan empathy and approval. Fans, who already feel an emotional disconnect from their beloved ice idols now are feeling a physical disconnect as these same players ply their trade elsewhere.
NHL players, instead of standing in solidarity, showing the fans that they want to get back to the table, have dispersed to far corners of the globe in search of games. Instead of a striking visual of NHL players standing at an arena gate, willing but unable to play due to the owners’ lockout, we are presented with no image whatsoever.
Well, not whatsoever. The image we are left with is one of total selfishness. It’s an image of a group of players so concerned about protecting their employment status in the NHL and willing to fight for it, that they seemingly have no problem taking jobs away from other people in other leagues.
The 200 or so roster places around the world that are now occupied by NHL players were not created out of thin air. They were 200 or so roster spots occupied by those who made their living playing hockey, at a substantially lower rate than their NHL brethren. Those are now 200 or so marginal players without a paycheque. They are 200 or so people with a dream to play the game they love for a living without the opportunity to do so, because these locked-out millionaires have decided to take a “working vacation.”
Yes, this is a lockout – by definition owner-imposed — and the NHL players did not choose to have their place of employment taken away from them. However, these players are already on shaky ground with the most important stakeholders in this whole debate – the paying fans.
Already fans have a hard time relating to the modern player. They get paid millions to play a game that anyone sitting in the stands would do for free if given the chance. They live lifestyles beyond our imagination. They earn more in a season than many of the paying public will do in a lifetime.
However, fans can relate to the semi-pro athlete. It’s an inverse proportion, really. The less money a player makes, the closer a fan can feel to understanding that player. And now these NHL millionaires are shoving aside the less fortunate. So the fan resents them more for that.
In this war, the NHL players missed a golden opportunity to get fan support on their side. Image is everything! Standing before a locked-out arena would have shown the fans that the players still care. It would have shown that they understand what the fans want. Instead, they’re earning a paycheck somewhere else. And, as the old adage states, out of site, out of mind.
So we come back to Helena Rudy, whom we vilify as a scab just for wanting to do her job. Her situation is just the other side of the NHL players coin, but each seems to hold different currency.
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