Labor deal not owners' priority


Labor deal not owners' priority

With time running out before the holiday season shutters all businesses, it is time for the National Hockey League owners to treat themselves. I mean, at this point, who else will?

And the treat? Cancelling the rest of the season, just so everyone knows that they mean business. Or in this case, lack of business.

It is clearly what they want now, just as much at this point as seeing Don Fehr with a spike through his head. They’re not talking, even though they’ve already received all the concessions made to this point. And their countersuit to the players’ disclaimer of interests threatens voiding all their contracts, essentially making every player an unrestricted free agent.

In other words, the years of roster- and franchise-building are now considered expendable to the greater need, which is showing the continent who’s boss.

And the only way the owners can do that and feel good about themselves to themselves now is to close the shop, put their feet up and say, “Well, that was a good year’s work.” Because it’s a very short step from “We don’t care who’s on our team” to “We don’t care if we have a team.”

And that is the hill with the little tiny flag they have decided is good to die upon, for reasons that baffle all other interested parties.

They surely see the signs everyone else does. Commercially, companies are leaving the hockey market in droves, or making massive reductions in investment. The television networks are already thick with alternative programming – except of course for the NHL Network, which has a smaller inventory than most junior college TV stations.

In addition, two Canadian polls have found (through the small sample size that limits all such endeavors) that more than half of the nation doesn’t give a damn whether they come back or not. Canada.

And in a triumph of meaningless statics conjoined to tell a greater truth, Gary Bettman’s personal odometer has just passed 2,000 days in the job, and 500 of those days on lockdown. And there is an increased interest in never seeing him touch the Stanley Cup again.

And Bettman is just the office manager in this little enterprise. We now also know who the hardline owners are leading the charge to keep the padlocks in place, the moderate owners who feel like negotiating a deal on everyone’s behalf is beneath them, and the ones just waiting for someone to give them a check. And as we know, the modern owner craves only money more than anonymity. Knowing who the villains, the silent majority and the spongers are by name works against their interests.

That’s why they hired Bettman – to be the abuse magnet for this sorry performance. And he’s outlived his value.

It is now clear to anyone that the owners are so tired of dealing with the boogeyman they have created in Fehr that they’d rather not deal at all. And Fehr isn’t going anywhere, which leaves them with Option B.

The “Closed For The Season” sign in the front window.

Some will suggest that the union is responsible for this state of affairs, on the basis that you always do what the boss says whether you like it or not. Well, no – not in collective bargaining.

In addition, as we said, the union has done all the significant giving here, and the art of making a deal is not insisting upon surrender but finding a midpoint that can be airtight (for owners who like to screw with the salary cap rules) and hurt everyone an endurable amount.

Baseball owners learned this while dealing with Fehr, amazingly, and their business has grown sixfold in 15 years.

The NHL owners have decided it isn’t the deal that’s important, though, but the head on the stick. They’ve already shown how little they think of those whose livelihoods depend on the ancillary businesses around the sport, so feeling bad for arena workers and souvenir salesmen and restaurateurs, etc., is wasted on them.

And now that they’ve been properly and publicly shamed for preferring the pike to the pen, and having discovered that Bettman is now more a screen door than a shield, blame delegation wise, they’re kind of cornered, public relations-wise.

Thus, they have to give to each other in a bizarre Secret Santa ritual that probably has to be held in a dark cave. And what they have to give is another cancelled season. After all, they did so well with the last one that they clearly remember it only with fondness.

So they may as well get on with it. Or in this case, off with it. They’ve made Canada hate the sport they sell. They’ve made television hate the programming they provide. They’ve made corporate America treat them like they were  anthrax salesmen. They’ve run the table.

So a hearty fa-la-la-la-feh to all 30 merry gentlemen. They’ve made another holiday extra special – for each other. Now they can talk about the sport they all profess to love in the past tense, a fitting reward for them all.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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.