(Note: This is my last post on the Gary Bettman lockout fiasco. Promise. Unless I’m really, really provoked.)
First, I think Gary’s apology was sincere. I don’t think he is a good enough actor to come across as that contrite and he did come across as contrite. Still, I wish that he had been far more specific about why he was apologising. “I’m sorry that I miscalculated the player resolve, underestimated Donald Fehr and took the fans for granted” is vastly different than “I’m sorry that it was necessary to shut down the game to get my way.”
What we saw from Gary was genuine regret, but not a mea culpa.
Even if we are generous enough to accept that Gary was taking responsibility, were there any indications in the press conference that the league has learned anything? I don’t think so. Bettman talked about the need for the league to regain the trust of the fans and he talked about the need to build trust between the league and the NHLPA. Fair enough, but he does not seem to understand that trust is earned by trustworthy people. That requires honesty.
There were three small things he said during his press conference that tells me he hasn’t learned anything. None of them are earthshaking, but they did not signal anything resembling a new attitude:
1) He implied that the deal brought labour peace for the next ten years when the league can choose to have another lockout in eight years if Bettman decides that is in his interest. (Is there a difference between a ten year deal with an option for either party to terminate it after eight years and an eight year deal?)
2) When asked why anyone should buy the idea the league wants a “partnership” between the league and the players again, he blamed the failure to develop that partnership on instability in the NHLPA over the past eight years. Even if we pretend that the instability was entirely the fault of the players, blaming them is not the way to improve the relationship. The positive way forward?
“We recognize that we can’t do this to our fans any more. The fact of the matter is that we have to be a lot better at labour relations and we are determined to improve. Our actions over the next decade will speak a lot louder than any words I could utter today.”
3) Bettman’s effusive praise of Don Fehr and the players on the negotiating committee was not credible. Everyone knows that Donald Fehr drove Bettman crazy over the course of this negotiation and everyone knows there is a great deal of bitterness – on both sides – hanging over the settlement. Bettman does not seem to understand that this bitterness cannot be swept under the rug with faux flattery.
Again the positive way forward is to acknowledge the bitterness, and acknowledge the league’s utter failure in respect to labour relations. The only time the NHL has had labour peace was when the NHLPA was a corrupt organization with crooked leadership.
“The history of labour relations in this sport has been a disgrace for more than fifty years. Both sides can and should be faulted for that disgrace. I can understand why neither the fans or the players believe that this collective bargaining agreement marks a new beginning but, on our side, we are determined to make it so. We are sorry and we have learned a lesson. I’m asking the fans and the players to give us a chance to earn your trust.”
Is that what Gary meant with his “personal” statement?