Sports and Classism

The start of another season of professional hockey is threatened. The owners have locked out the union that represents the players of the National Hockey League (NHLPA). The ownership-labor squabble is like a battle between the 1%-ers and 5%-ers (or there abouts) — billionaires versus millionaires. It is hard for an average working Jane or Joe to work up much sympathy for either group.

League revenue have risen greatly since the last labor agreement, and the billionaire owners are demanding a bigger slice of the NHL pie from the players. The owners of the 30 teams initially demanded that the 690 players agree to a cut in their share of the league revenue from 57 percent to 43 percent. The owners later upped the offer to the players to 46 percent (still substantially down from the previous collective bargaining agreement of 57 percent).

Controversy followed when the senior vice president of the Detroit Red Wings, Jim Devellano, drew an analogy of the lockout situation:

It’s very complicated and way too much for the average Joe to understand, but having said that, I will tell you this. The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle. The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there. That’s the way it’s always been and that the way it will be forever. And the owners simply aren’t going to let a union push them around. It’s not going to happen.1

One wonders who is doing the pushing? The players entered the labor negotiations with no demands for an increase in their position; ergo, there was no pushing from the players’s side.

As for the Ranch, Devellano, who could be depicted as a hired ranchhand in this analogy, said,

Yes, they are billionaires. Good on them, they deserve it, but they also make their employees millionaires. Not a bad tradeoff for a guy like (Milan) Lucic getting what, $6 million a year? I mean good on him too, but he should be grateful. Understand, though, that these players want for nothing … it’s first class this, first class that, meal allowances, travel money on the road, the whole shebang.1

Neither do the owners “want for nothing,” and I’m sure it’s first class this and that for them? So what is Devellano getting at? Is one class worth more than another class of people? Should there even be classes?

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “Such comments are neither constructive nor helpful to the negotiations.”1 Daly does not refute or deny the analogy made in the comments.

Fans chimed in with their thoughts. Steviejcooper obviously sides with the capitalists and their right to dictate terms to labor:

All of you, wake the hell up. It is plain and simple. You have people who own the business who (like it or not) have the right to make up the rules. You as an employee have a choice, play by the rules or go find another job if you don’t like making 6-8 million a year. Basic business logic. Don’t over analyse it for crying out loud. It is what it is. Employer… boss, employee… shut up and do your job or get the hell out of my office!!1

habs3939 was more reasonable, writing:

Yes, everyone makes a lot of money. Question: What do u call a ranch with no cattle? Answer: A ranch that doesn’t make a dime. Players be grateful, yes, who wouldn’t, however they do train their whole life, that’s why they made the NHL. Owners are nothing without them.1

Why is it that the players seemingly cannot fathom that hockey only can happen with them? No owners are required for a league to exist, schedule, and play games.

Players only require arenas (usually provided for a fee, quite possibly subsidized and gladly so, by the cities where hockey is played), hiring of arena staff, coaches, and referees. Nowhere in the process are owners required. The players would be the owners. So why do the players not take charge of their own lives?

One must also question how devoted players are to revenue sharing among themselves? The top wage earners might enjoy salaries of $8-$10-$14 million for the 2012-2013 season. The average salary of an NHL player is about $2.4 million. Obviously classism exists among the players in the NHL. Critics might respond that NHL salaries are based on merit, that is how valuable or skilled a player is relative to his teammates. This shines the light on flashier players, especially those who can put the puck in the opposition net and goaltenders who can keep the puck out of their net. Often overlooked in this metric is the importance of the grinders who sacrifice their bodies to clear ice space for scorers or who throw their bodies in front of pucks to prevent goals in their own net.

No matter what metric, it boils down to a form of classism, and it makes it difficult for progressive fans to support labor (the players) in its battle with the capitalists (team owners).

Another league is possible. Hockey is a fun sport; it is a privilege (gained through hard work and sacrifice) to play professional hockey for a living. Players have the opportunity to seize control of their workplace and to secure the support of fans. A parecon hockey league would achieve this. It would be revolutionary. Players would set the rules, the schedule, and decide on revenue sharing. The smart league would give back to the fans and community. Ticket prices that are priced within the affordability range of average fans would attract and hold new fans.

Do players requires many millions of dollars a year? Players are a part of the wider society. They are already privileged by their job and lifestyle. After the hockey revolution, the question would be: with players being in control of their hockey future, and knowing the importance of fans to their hockey future, what will they do?

  1. TSN.ca staff, “Red Wings Fine Undisclosed Amount for Devellano Comments,” 22 September 2012. [] [] [] [] []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.