NHL labor dispute is about nothing more than Jacobs vs. Fehr


NHL labor dispute is about nothing more than Jacobs vs. Fehr

Well, we finally got to the crux of the NHL labor problem. Actually, we were always there, but Thursday just cemented it.

This is not about money, or contract length, or any of the other minutiae that collective bargaining creates. It is about Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and NHLPA head Don Fehr, and it always was.

The owners demonized Fehr the day he took the job running the NHL Players Association because they were sure he wanted to destroy them – a neat trick since he’d never tried to do that in his years in baseball, and that sport has had labor peace for the last 17 years, most of which he was there for.

The players already demonized Gary Bettman, and by extension the hardline owners who had kept him secure as commissioner, and the hardest of the hardliners was, is, and will always be Jeremy Jacobs.

So it was Jacobs v. Fehr from the start, and negotiations are not done over personalities. They are destroyed over personalities.

And for this parlous state of affairs, we can actually ask a question: Why do the moderate owners in the league never step up and say, “We want to be the ones in the room”? Why did they do what they always do – sit back and expect the hardliners to get them the best deal possible? Why do they end up being the ones complaining the deal doesn’t work for them when they’ve done so little to craft the deal themselves?

We ask this because baseball learned that lesson 17 years ago, while Fehr was still in charge of the union. They realized that the deal is more important than the personalities, and the deals got done. Then Fehr moved on, replaced himself by a moderate figure in Michael Weiner, and the players and owners are now closer to actually being partners than ever before. There is now labor peace, the game has grown dramatically, and everyone seems quite happy.

Is this Fehr’s doing alone? Of course not. Owners had to realize that beating the union shouldn’t be the goal. Getting the deal should be the goal. And when baseball’s owners figured that out, Fehr no longer had to be the iron bar in everyone’s spokes.

Why then, you ask, did the NHLPA hire him? Because they’d been hammered in the previous deal when Bob Goodenow was their boss. He let it be about personalities, too, and the owners were only happy to oblige in kind, and with superior firepower. That cost a season, and a television contract. And that deal turned out to be bad for some owners too – not because the union crafted it so brilliantly, but because the owners circumvented it so often that it became not a contract but a footpath.

There is a reason why the distribution of wealth in the NHL is so top-heavy, after all. The few teams that can make money do, and don’t really like distributing it -- not to the poorest franchise who are in some cases beyond redemption, and definitely not to middle-class clubs who are trying to operate on the square and still gets their hats blocked year after year.

But come CBA time, they all unite around a common theme – hating the guy who runs the NHLPA. It is the hardliners’ song of choice, and it is so now.

It is interesting that talks allegedly went well when Fehr and Bettman were out of the room – although, bafflingly, Jacobs and Murray Edwards of Calgary, another fierce hardliner, were allowed to stay in. Then when the players wanted Fehr to return, owners said that could be a deal-breaker. And, as events showed, it was. A voicemail rejection is essentially saying, “We didn’t need your proposal to reject it. We needed only to know you would make one.”

And who handled that presser? Bettman. The designated bad-news-deliverer-for-hire. The money is that good that he would rather be equated for all time with the worst part of the sport than not do it.

So it goes. This season seems deader than dead now, because the hardline owners would rather kill Fehr than run their hockey teams. And the players cannot abandon Fehr without losing face and being worse off than they were after the Goodenow fiasco. This is indisputably true, and leaves us with the true issue dividing these two sides.

One side has Jeremy Jacobs. The other side has Don Fehr. Fehr isn’t leaving the room if Jacobs isn’t, and Jacobs is never leaving the room. Impasse-by-ass.

And the moderate owners– screwed again, by their own disinterest. They deserve it, too, because there are more of them than any other faction, but they don’t want to bother enough to crash the room and make the deal that can potentially enrich them all. They’d rather let the hardliners deliver them a contract, and then let the wealthiest clubs steamroll their way around it.

So for once it isn’t about the money. And at this point, the only way to save the season is to bring the hardline owners led by Jacobs and Fehr together, lock them in a room – and then negotiate somewhere else.

You do that, you get a deal. You don’t do that, and celebrity curling becomes the new hot TV property.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

Very bad 49ers stay tumbling in truly lost 2016 season

You can almost hear the sound whistling between the 49ers’ teeth at this point, beneath the droned platitudes and vague responses to what is a fully lost season:

“Look, what do you want from us? This is who we are.”

You can almost hear it, that is. They wouldn’t dare express such rampant defeatism – I mean, if they didn’t after Sunday’s 34-17 muzzling at the hands, arms, torsos and feet of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s unlikely you would hear it at any point.

But they must surely know by now that this is a season already in the rear-view mirror. There are no secret plans, or stashed players, or untried ideas left to unearth, sign or try. The coming bye week will not clear their heads and give them new inspiration, save that of having a week off from the steady beatings. They are 1-6 on merit, and proved it again yesterday before another dispirited two-thirds-of-a-sellout crowd which is coming to realize that their hope is a mile wide and an inch deep.

[MAIOCCO: Kelly: No changes to 49ers defensive staff after loss]

Sunday, for example, Colin Kaepernick was their best running back, Shaun Draughn was their best receiver, the downed kickoff was their best special teams play, and their best strategic decision – well, they lost the coin flip so they didn’t even get a chance to defer the opening kickoff.

And their defense? It only allowed whatever Tampa Bay wanted, and only on demand. Jacquizz Rodgers became the sixth running back to gain 100 yards against them (and the first to do it in one half), which is noteworthy only because they allowed five all last year in a bad season, and nine in the four seasons before that, four of those by Marshawn Lynch.

And quarterback Jameis Winston threw the ball to wide-open receivers and into coverage with the same sense of well-placed bravado. Though his numbers didn’t exactly aurora the borealis (21-of-30, 269, 3/1, 117.2), he never emitted a sense that he couldn’t do whatever he wanted – save get the officials to give him a better spot when he snapped and cost his team a potential touchdown with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for headless-chickening.

In other words, this was not materially different than the Buffalo game, or the Seattle game, or the Carolina game. The only game that has been different is the opener against Los Angeles, when everything worked and made sense and life was happy and Jed York hummed “I Am 16 Going On 17” all through the suite all night long.

That game was 50,000 years ago. These are who the 49ers are now, and who they are going to be for awhile to come.

They speak of consistency, and yet they are the very model of it – leading the league in punts, and ranking second in three-and-outs, 27th in first downs and 31st in plays per drive. They don’t stay on the field, in other words, and when on defense, they allow 118 more yards per game than their offense gets them.

And they swear with unanimity that they are together as a team, and work hard each week to achieve the acme of their talents and learning. So this, if that is so, must be at or near the top of their game – which, as head coach for now and the future Chip Kelly (stop thinking this is just a coaching problem, please) put it, “We’re not doing what it takes to be successful right now.”

That was in response to a question about whether the 49ers were going backwards. He ducked the issue by saying, “I don’t think forwards or backwards,” which is probably a lie, but we can help anyway.

They have gone dramatically backwards since Game 1, and essentially stagnated since Game 2. It’s how they have gotten to where they are right now, and how they have become who they are right now.

It may be that stranger things have happened in the NFL than a team starting 1-6 and rallying to win eight, nine or 10 in a row, but on this team, based all the available evidence, this team won’t be that strange. They have revealed themselves for what they actually are, which is not good enough to change what they actually are.

And if that is too tough a sentence for you to swallow, well, go out and write some of your own. You can tell any tale you want, but this is the tale of the 2016 San Francisco 49ers, a team awash in unpleasant self-realization and the knowledge that there is nothing to be done but to go out each week and do it again.

Except next week, of course. Bye may be a favorite, but Bye must be played, just like all the others.

NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale


NFL disregards domestic violence, as Giants extend its tolerance scale

The National Football League has been reminded yet again that it neither understands nor cares to understand about domestic violence.

But it will do better, you may rest assured. They’ll have a week where all the on-field personnel wear purple to commemorate the bruises.

That’s what the NFL does when it can no longer ignore its own tone-deafness – they turn their stupidity into a marketing opportunity. After all, every social problem can be solved in the league’s eyes by figuring out a way for the league to monetize it.

The latest example of the NFL’s slack-jawed world view comes from New York, where the Giants could not and still cannot figure out what to do about kicker/serial domestic abuser Josh Brown except not let him go to London for the weekend.

This means the league has learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident, even as Rice of all people is showing on a regular basis how to learn from it. More than that, it means it has no interest in learning anything about it, and will never prioritize it beyond crisis-management level – “Uh-oh, something bad just happened. Quick, put it behind us.”

Then again, the league has been so relentlessly ham-handed on so many things that, as convenient as this may be for it, we should stop expecting it to do so, to the point that when someone from the league wants to explain some social issue to us we should simply say with one voice, “Oh, shut up, you yammering frauds.”

It is difficult to prioritize the number of ways the Giants failed to comprehend the problem currently smacking them between the numbers, although owner John Mara’s “He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What’s a little unclear is the extent of that” may summarize it nicely.

Put another way, one could make a case that the Giants extended the universal talent-tolerance scale (if you have the talent, anything can be tolerated until it can’t) to include placekickers.

That seems less likely, though, than the more obvious point that the league doesn’t regard domestic violence as something worth concerning itself with, while bloviating all the time about all the things with which it is concerned. The league is the beat cop who never gets out of his car to see what is happening on his beat, and is shocked when something does.

And while it will be handy to pile this atop the list of reasons why Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t get it, the truth is he is merely the painful rash that reveals the league’s case of shingles. The league’s 32 constituent elements are culpable here because ignorance in the face of so much evidence becomes willful, and Goodell’s skill is not in guiding the league but in figuring out where his 32 bosses want him to go, and avoiding all the places they don’t.

Hence, domestic violence. This is not an easy problem to solve, as any expert will say, but Mara trying to decide how many punches are enough isn’t it. The league’s six-game suspension guideline that is now four years old has never been imposed on any player. It wants the power to use the talent-tolerance scale at whim to do what it wishes when it wishes to do it.

Or in this case, not do anything at all until it has to, and then in as minimal a fashion as it can manage.

So, Josh Brown loses a week in a foreign country on the company dime as a trade-off for continually terrorizing his wife. The league says it punished him for a game but was powerless to do anything else while knowing all along how severe the problem had become.

In short, it did the minimum. Now that everyone knows the fullest extent of Brown’s abuse, and how much the league knew without doing anything, it will now extend the minimum out to what it thinks is a new minimum.

So we now know that the NFL is looking for some metric that will determine the transactional “extent of that,” as John Mara so eloquently put it for us. When it comes up with that formula, it will surely ignore that standard, because the real standard is still “talent-tolerance,” and the world is made up of concentric circles surrounding the people who make the league and its members a dollar more tomorrow than it made today.

And spouses are a long way from the center.