Tag Archives: lockout

An Ode to Helena Rudy

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.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Hockey Strike is the Fans’ Fault

By Jason Menard

So the NHL and the NHLPA have decided that since they can’t share the big ball of wealth that they’ve got to play with, they’re simply going to pack up and go home.

Everybody who is passionate about the sport seems to have an opinion about who’s to blame in this mess. There are those railing on about the greedy players and others talking about the mismanagement of the owners. And then the common refrain is heard, “The only one’s who are really suffering are the fans!”

Ah, but the fans are not as innocent as they have been portrayed. In fact, the fans are probably as much to blame – if not more – than either the owners or the players for this mess. The fact of the matter is that, despite increased ticket prices, indifferent treatment by both players and owners alike, a poorer quality game, and exorbitant rates for everything from parking to souvenirs to refreshments at an arena, the fans continued to go to the games, drop their hard-earned coin, and pay these salaries.

We, the fans, have become enablers for the very activity we despise. I’ve been asked by many non-hockey fans why teams charge so much for (insert item here: tickets, apparel, beer), and my simple answer has always been, “Because they can.” They’re simply charging what the market will bear and, unfortunately, the market’s been willing to bear too much.

I’m no economist, but I know that if someone was willing to pay me a million bucks to write a column, I’d be typing so fast my fingers would bleed! The word no would be out of my vocabulary for a while, in this case. So why do we begrudge the owners for charging top dollar for what’s essentially junk?

People across this great nation of ours lament the poor quality hockey to which we’re subjected. Their love of hockey is more rooted in the past than any sort of present. But still, instead of showing their dissatisfaction, they continue to flock like lemmings to the Air Canada Centre, the Bell Centre, or any other steel and glass hockey shrine (usually one that’s been funded by taxpayer dollars.)

There’s a lot of talk about the lack of fan interest for the southern US teams. But can this really all be attributed to a lack of interest? I think we should actually be proud of those fans who aren’t allowing themselves to be ripped off! They’re putting their money where their mouths are. Why pay for a product that’s inferior?

We’re the ones that are held hostage by our passion for hockey. You wouldn’t think twice about not going to a restaurant that charged you top dollar for poor quality food, but asking you to give up those cherished season’s tickets is akin to asking you to give up your first born! It’s only those of us in the “traditional” (which I believe is a euphemism for gullible) hockey markets who chose to ignore the product, the service, and the entertainment value, and shell out more and more of our hard-earned money each year. Maybe the time has come to look at our collective ravenous appetite for hockey and temper it with some common sense.

Now that the NHL is gone, hopefully these same people that are outraged by the owners’ and players’ actions will now support other options like Junior and University hockey. The excitement is building for the Memorial Cup. Fan support of the Knights has never been higher and this should happen right across this great land of ours. True hockey fans should stop worrying about what they’re missing, and discover what they’ve missed for all these years. Junior Hockey (or AHL, or any number of leagues) provides entertaining hockey at a fraction of the cost.

Support these leagues, and even after the NHL comes back with their empty apologies and hollow statements of love, continue to support them. We live in a market-driven society. When we stop paying the prices that these teams demand and, instead, give our money to a more affordable option, then the NHL will get the point.

Then ticket prices may start coming down. Then a beer may not cost you a second mortgage. Then maybe we’ll be as smart as those fans in the Southern U.S.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved