Alyssa Rosenthal ’13
Last week, the National Hockey League announced the cancellation of its preseason games after training camps were delayed due to its failure to approve a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NHL Players’ Association. So in layman’s terms, we are now in the midst of an NHL lockout, the end of which doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. Even though this is the first NHL lockout since 2004, it is the third in the past year for American professional sports, as both the NFL and the NBA locked out their players prior to the starts of their 2011 seasons. Watching the public response to the lockouts over the past year really showed me how enthralled Americans are with professional sports, but it also reminded me about some of the aspects of pro sports that I would rather forget.
The NFL lockout, which lasted for 18 weeks, ended with just enough time for teams to open their camps, get their players on the field, and hope that they had stayed in shape during the offseason. Not only were players and coaches relieved to get back on the field, but the press and the public also had a field day when the lockout finally ended. Because organizations could not talk to players during the lockout, all the trades that would have taken place over the 18-week period were squeezed into the two weeks before the season began, resulting in the most exciting offseason the NFL has had in years. Fan interest increased as a result, and Americans were more excited for football season than they had been in a long time. Conversely, the NBA lockout wasn’t resolved in quite the same manner, and the normally 82-game season was shortened to 66. Fans, coaches, and players alike were worried that the condensed season would take a physical toll on the older players in the league, as more than one recovery day between games became a luxury. Consequently, teams like OKC seemed to have a leg up on their competition before the season even began, which became clear in the Western Conference Championship when they stunned the older Spurs to make it to the Finals. (The Spurs were the 13th oldest team, while the Thunder were 24th of 30.) And now the NHL has locked out its players as well, with an expected result different from either lockout last year. Of the three sports, ice hockey is the strongest internationally, meaning players could sign with international teams without worrying about the leagues not being competitive enough to keep their skills where they need to be. With this possibility, there isn’t as much pressure for negotiations to be made before the season is set to begin.
So what have I learned from all this action going on off the field, court, and ice? Besides the meaning of CBA, I’ve been reminded that these men don’t just go to practices and play in games; being a professional athlete is a job, and each league is its own corporate organism. Players belong to unions just like other workers, and have union representatives who actually know a thing or two more than just how to jump shoot or run a route. In order for a game to be played, players, coaching staff, referees, grounds crews, announcers, and others must be present and paid appropriately for their services. These are all aspects of the game that I’m sure we all tend to forget about when there’s less than a minute left in the game and we’re just hoping for the right play.
In a sense, learning about the lockouts has demystified professional sports for me. I like to think that these guys are out there each day for the same reasons I went to soccer practice at age 12; because it was fun and because I loved the sport. I like to ignore the fact that these are careers for these athletes, and instead just get lost in every play. The lockouts have made this difficult, and hopefully once the most recent one is behind us I can go back to thinking the players are playing purely for the thrill of competition and the love of the game.