Has there ever been a more reviled figure in sports than NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman? Perhaps. Has there ever been a more reviled figure in sports who wasn’t actually a participant? I’m open to the possibility, but I’d need to see a lot of corroborating sources before I threw my weight behind a contention like that.
Granted, my take is a little skewed. I live in the most information-abundant age in the history of mankind, so it’s very easy for me to take a quick look and see ample evidence of just how much people despise Gary Bettman. Perhaps Kennesaw Mountain Landis inspired a campaign of insulting postcards mailed out to baseball fans, on his behalf but without his knowledge; if so, it’s lost to history and beyond my ken. All I know is that I can type “bettman hate” into YouTube and instantly be whisked away to a wonderland of enmity. He’s the inspiration for a veritable cottage industry of boo montages.
Or I can read the Not Gary Bettman Twitter account. Whoever’s running this one tapped into the richest vein of snarky hate since the Great Snarky Hate Rush of 1846:
The hate so many hockey fans across North America feel for this lawyer isn’t just real, it’s downright venomous. It’s the kind of hate you store up for people who’ve stolen your wife, or maybe shot you. Seriously, for hockey fans to hate Gary Bettman any more at this point, they’d have to level up and select the More Hate perk. Maximum hate has already been achieved.
This entire lockout has been like the only ride at No Fun Land, the world’s worst theme park, the one you’ve told your parents over and over that you never want to go to again but they keep taking you every seven years anyway. It’s on rails, all unfolding according to an owner-approved script. It moves at a snail’s pace, with nothing good to see along the way (unless inspiring ever-mounting levels of hate for Gary Bettman counts). And despite the lack of speed, you know the whole time you’re still going to feel feel sick at the end.
Anyone who holds onto his job for 20 years is clearly making the people who pay his salary happy. Or in Gary Bettman’s case, enough of the people who pay his salary. He has to keep less than a third of the teams’ owners happy. That’s a good thing for him: sources tell me that Montgomery Burns’ cloning machine is only good for eight uses, and by my count they’ve all been used up. But it’s bad news for the NHL. By all evidence, the commissioner’s signature strategy is to lock the players out at the end of every collective bargaining agreement. That’s guaranteed to lose money for all of the owners every seven-to-ten years. But it takes time to grow markets, and sitting today’s marginally money-losing teams out for whole seasons isn’t anybody’s idea of how to turn them into tomorrow’s self-sufficient franchises.
If the richest owners didn’t want to support struggling franchises in borderline markets, they should have never have instituted expansion and revenue sharing. But they did institute expansion and revenue sharing, which leaves us where we are today. We’re in a bad situation where scorched earth is only going to make things worse. Unfortunately, scorched earth is all that Gary Bettman has to offer – and that’s precisely why he needs to go.
Don’t count on it happening, though. People who have made mistakes rarely like to have those mistakes pointed out to them, least of all when the mistake-makers are the filthy rich guys who own certain NHL teams. They don’t have to listen to anything that doesn’t suit them – things like “this isn’t a viable long-term strategy,” or “you dug your own grave and now you’re getting ready to lie in it.” They pay guys like Gary Bettman to keep them from ever hearing that kind of stuff…and Gary Bettman keeps cashing their checks and telling them what they want to hear.