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

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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

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

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Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
 
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
 
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
 
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
 
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
 
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
 
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
 
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
 
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
 
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
 
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
 
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.