Tag Archives: players

Union Must Decide Who it Represents

If the NBA’s players’ association actually appeals the suspensions levied this weekend against noted bad boys Stephen Jackson and Ron Artest, then they’re doing a disservice to the rest of its constituency.

I get it. You’re a union. And unions protect their membership without fail. There’s something admirable in that for sure, but the positives are grossly outweighed by the negatives.

After all, there are no absolutes in life, and this is one case where the players’ association should realize that discretion is truly the better part of valour.

Jackson and Artest were each suspended seven games on Saturday for off-the-field incidents: Artest’s May misdemeanor domestic violence charge and Jackson’s June shoot-‘em-up outside of an Indiana strip club. And while Jackson, for once, has shown grace in accepting his punishment, his union representation is already floating trial balloons about the inherent unfairness of these punishments in light of past precedents.

Let’s just hope those trial balloons pop — and soon.

Maybe, when compared with previous suspensions for off-the-field transgressions, these suspensions are a tad harsher. But the union has to understand that this is the dawn of a new era in sport.

There’s a huge backlash against thug culture. What started innocently as the big, bad Raiders, morphed into the more gangster lean of the NBA. Tatooed bad boys with a heart of gold like Alan Iverson, for a while, were the poster boys of the league. Long gone were the days of crew cuts and nut huggers — piercings, ink, and baggy shorts were the style and the kids ate it up.

But now the pendulum’s shifted too far. Not a week goes by without some NFL player getting busted for some sort of transgression — usually involving alcohol, violence, or both — a fact that inspired ProFootballTalk.com to set up a Days Without an Arrest counter. NBA players have gone from Thug-lite Iversons to full-on, remorseless punks like Artest and Jackson. It wasn’t that long ago that these two were at the centre of a disgraceful display in Detroit — and they apparently haven’t learned their lesson.

Yes, the NBA Players Association has a mandate to protect its membership. But who needs protecting here? Two childish morons who think slapping women or endangering innocents with a firearm are just fun and games, or the majority of hard-working NBAers who are going to have their reputations tarnished simply through guilt by association?

Artest and Jackson have had chance after chance. Of course, this is also an association who felt that a suspension for a player choking his coach was unjust, when in truth jail time would have been warranted.

It’s a changing world. People are fed up with the inmates running the asylum. The average sports fan isn’t sitting on the couch, polishing his 9 and running down a list of people in whom they’re going to bust a cap. They’re not making it rain at the local adult emporium and then getting their posse to rough up a poor kid just for looking at them cross-eyed.

No, they’re at home with their kids, looking for an evening’s diversion with their kids. They’re looking to root for their favourite club without wondering if they’re supporting drug runners, rapists, and murderers. They’re looking to the LeBron Jameses, Shaquille O’Neals, and Ladainian Tomlinsons of the world to entertain them.

Unfortunately, too often they’re getting the Artests, Jacksons, Tank Johnsons, and Michael Vicks. Eventually — and arguably it’s already started – they’re going to get fed up and show their displeasure with the only resource they have at their disposal — their money.

When the fans leave, so too do the mega-million salaries — and that impacts each and every player, not just the goons who brought this cloud of negativity.

So the NBA players’ association needs to make a choice. Who is it protecting — the majority of players who are solid, hard-working players who are representing the union’s membership to its fullest, or the few bad seeds who are taking advantage of their position and poisoning the rest of the league with their selfishness.

A union is supposed to be a collective working together to support each other’s best interests. So before they rush to a negative judgment, maybe the union should consider in whose interests Artest and Jackson have been working.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

NHLers Thinking with the Wrong Head

By Jason Menard

Most of the time, we guys are criticized for thinking too much WITH the little head – but, when it comes to NHL players, they’re obviously more concerned with thinking ABOUT their little head when it comes to safety.

Is there any reason why players would question your sanity if you suggested playing the game without a jock, but don’t see the folly in playing the game without adequate facial protection?

Manhood is a big part of professional sports. It’s the Neanderthalistic backdrop to competition. It’s what prevents most sports from truly being appreciated for their speed, grace, skill, and – yes, even – beauty. The most exciting or dramatic touchdown, dunk, or goal can be marred by gratuitous displays of gloating, preening, and self-importance. It’s gotten to the point where routine plays – the kind you’re expected to make as a high-school athlete – are celebrated with overt (and choreographed) attention-grabbing antics.

Thus, our sporting fields often reek with the remnants of these macho pissing contents. And, like pre-pubescent boys trying to assert their emerging maturity, common sense is often left behind in an attempt to not appear weaker than your competitor.

Which brings us back to the NHL and its players continued stubborn refusal to wear facial protection. Admittedly, it was like pulling teeth to get them to wear helmets just over two decades ago, with some resisting and clinging to grandfather clauses, until the bitter – and better – end.

Yet, the league and its players association make no effort to mandate its players when it comes to facial protection. Adhering to some ancient freedom of choice myth perpetuated by years of negligence, the players are asserting that it’s their divine right to play the fastest game in the world without complete protection.

Normally, I’m all for letting Darwin have his way with these people and letting the laws of natural selection cull those who aren’t smart enough to protect themselves from our general population. But, at the professional level, these players are not just individuals – they’re investments. Team owners literally spend millions on these players and build their product based upon the foundation that these players will be in the lineup. From marketing campaigns to anticipation of playoff revenue, forecasts are made with the idea that your stars are going to be in uniform. And that doesn’t even factor in the countless thousands of dollars that are spent on insurance policies.

The counter argument is that injuries happen and only fate will decide who pops an ACL and who suffers a fractured orbital bone – or worse – the loss of an eye. But the difference is that the former injury is truly a matter of fate, while the latter examples are more or less completely preventable.

Today’s players have come through a minor league system that mandates facial protection. From full cages at the younger and university levels, to the face shields present in junior hockey, today’s athlete spends the majority of his developmental years playing the game with something in front of his eyes. Yet, upon the ascension to the pro ranks, we’re supposed to believe that suddenly one’s vision becomes impaired by the very same thin sheet of plastic which allowed this player to rise through the ranks to become one of only a handful of people in this world with the skill and talent to play professional hockey?

As well, in this new fan-friendly hockey environment, the league and its players need to understand that it’s its principal stakeholders, the fans, who suffer the most when a valued member of their team goes down from an entirely preventable injury. The fans are the ones who purchase the tickets, buy the licensed merchandise, and support the manufacturers who use the players as pitchmen.

Finally, the players themselves need to understand that wearing a face shield is an investment in themselves. With a salary cap system, revenues tied to league earnings, and a precariously short career, to not do everything in your ability to maximize your earning potential and revenue-producing years is simply folly.

It’s time for hockey players to join the rest of us on these higher rungs of the evolutionary ladder. If they can stop dragging their knuckles long enough to grab a stick, then they’re at the developmental point where they can affix a shield to their helmet. Let’s start putting a premium on intelligence when it comes to defining manhood. Let’s take another look at what it means to be tough.

Firefighters enter blazing buildings covered head to toe in protective equipment. Does that make them any less a man (or woman in this case)? Or do we appreciate their bravery regardless of a plastic shield in front of their face? Why should the threshold for manhood be different on ice? A generation ago, people were resisting strapping on a seatbelt for many of the same reasons: we’ve never worn one before; they’re an uncomfortable encumbrance; no one’s going to tell me what to do. But look at where we’ve come since then.

The players demand the freedom of choice, so here’s a solution. Facial protection won’t be mandatory – the players can still roam the ice with their bare faces whipping in the wind, asserting their individuality and masculinity. However, if they elect not to wear a face shield, they’re prohibited from wearing a jock. Put on a mask and the cup comes back.

Simple solution. And we’ll see which head they’re truly thinking with – and which one will lead the way.

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