No Icemen Cometh. Who Careth?
Over the holidays there were lots of developments in the strike afflicting the Summer Game (page 34), but the quintessential winter sport remained on ice—in the figurative sense—after almost 100 days. SI's E.M. Swift wonders if anyone in North America gives a fig:
Where are the irate politicians bemoaning the economic hardships brought on by the NHL lockout? Why no teeth-gnashing on C-SPAN over the prospect of the Stanley Cup, the oldest trophy in professional sports, going unawarded? Where is the federal mediator riding into the fray on a white stallion of presidential praise? Correct us if we're mistaken, but isn't there an NHL team representing Washington, D.C.? Doesn't Ottawa, the capital of hockey-mad Canada, boast a club called the Senators? If NHL hockey really were the sport of the 1990s, as it was being billed just months ago, wouldn't someone—anyone—in the U.S. Congress or the Canadian Parliament have expressed outrage that the 1994-95 season has yet to begin?
The contrast to baseball is startling. In hope of breaking the impasse in that sport, President Clinton turned to Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who got the owners and players to agree to hire supermediator Bill Usery. Last week, as everyone from Jimmy Carter to Daniel Patrick Moynihan jockeyed to get involved, you would have thought the strike ranked as an issue with homelessness, Haiti and health reform. None of the interventions, real or threatened, has worked. But at least someone seems to care.
Not so, evidently, about hockey. So far Clinton, who has shown no interest in the sport beyond a phone call last spring to playoff MVP Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers, hasn't given the NHL's labor woes so much as a presidential sigh. Even in Canada, Prime Minister Jean Chr�tien has said little on the lockout. "Early on, a couple members of Parliament were making noises about holding hearings and getting involved in the negotiations," says one NHL official. "But that didn't last long. We're far from disappointed about that, by the way."
Unlike baseball, hockey doesn't enjoy a U.S. antitrust exemption, so it's harder for politicians in Washington to bring legislative pressures to bear. Nor has the NHL's absence proved to be an emotional issue for anyone beyond the players and owners—and a few fans, mostly in western Canada. "Life goes on," says Washington Capital general manager David Poile. "In Canada the newspapers and television are covering a lot more junior and minor league hockey games. And in the States it's almost like there's a complete lack of interest. None. That should tell our players and owners that we're not in the same situation as baseball."
Would a mediator, whether from north or south of the border, help? Neither union head Bob Goodenow nor commissioner Gary Bettman believes so, even as the league informed the union last week that it had imposed a Jan. 16 "drop-dead" date to start the season. "We've failed to reach an agreement, but we haven't had a failure to communicate, that's for sure," says Goodenow. "As we've seen in baseball, a federal mediator can bring a lot of publicity to discussions. But he won't necessarily lead to a solution."
A solution to a problem about which, increasingly, nobody seems to care.
Thanks for Sharing
There must have been plenty of mistletoe hanging over the NFL in late December. "Losing like this reminds me of my first kiss: yuck!" said Houston Oiler linebacker Micheal Barrow as his team's 2-14 season wound down. "We were so young we didn't know what we were doing, and we just slobbered all over each other."