Monday, May 15, 2017

The Hockey Business

Marvin Miller was the best thing that happened to baseball going back a few years. He brought the players, who are the game, out of the equivalent of indentured servitude, which is a fancy name for slavery. But as important as full coverage of sports as a business is, since we never should forget that sports is a business, the focus on the business side of sports has overwhelmed the media coverage of the games themselves.

For example, when the N.Y. Times gets around to including stories about major sporting events prominently  in its sports pages as contrasted with the oddball features to which it usually devotes most of its limited space, the stories often focus mainly on the business side--how much is the contract and who's making the most money. 

It has gone so far that we are no longer surprised when sports commissioners, who have generally ignored their original charge to look out for "the good of the game," emphasize money at all costs over integrity and good sportsmanship. People like Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, don't deserve to be called sportsmen. In fact, they probably would resent being called anything other than a businessman.

Bettman went to the same undergraduate institution I attended--Cornell's industrial and labor relations school--which now takes pride in training union- busting types like he is. But his greatest offense against the good of the game is his position that it is bad for the NHL to take a break so players can enjoy the international competition of the Olympics. His employers--the team owners--can't stand the idea of losing a couple of weeks of income. It's just business, as the Corleones would put it.

In Europe, football, i.e., soccer, teams have recognized that great players must be allowed to take the time needed to play on their national teams, if so honored, for the glory of their country. This is also true in international cricket competitions--which attract huge attention in all parts of the English-speaking world except the U.S. Sadly, however, the U.S. attitude of making the business not just the number one but the only priority is spreading.

Some European owners want to restrict the release of great players to play on their national teams. It will take some time before the U.S. approach corrupts European and international sport but just look at the International Olympic Committee's and FIFA's generations of corruption if you think that this attitude won't spread. In fact, those corrupt institutions are only defending release of players because if the teams and leagues didn't allow them to play, international competition would be killed.

Some baseball players appeared in the World Baseball Classic. Others were afraid of injury and passed it up. Those who watched said that the competition was superior to that offered by Major League Baseball, because the players had their heart and national pride in their play. Remember when the U.S. runner Jackson Scholz in Chariots of Fire told Charley Paddock that he'd better look out for Eric Liddell on the track, "because he's running for something bigger than the medal."

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