NHL Lockout: A Letter From A Broken Fan
The NHL lockout continues, the sides are dug in, the Winter Classic has been canceled, and I've had enough.
Before settling in, let me first issue a warning to those of you looking for inside information and key-player quotes. You'll find none in this article. A month ago, perhaps I would have taken up the investigative cause and sought out the truth and justice. Today, I confess myself wholly disinterested. There was a time for statistics, a time for the cases of both sides to be laid out and impartially evaluated, judged in the court of public opinion. Such a time has long since passed.
Here you won't find any sense of journalistic integrity, just the writings of a fan who no longer has the stomach, the heart, or the patience to keep held a tongue that so desperately wants to cry havoc.
Some eighteen years ago, a six-year-old boy sat along side his father and watched Matteau, Messier, Leetch, and Richter engineer the end of a 54-year drought. He watched because his dad watched, and he was a Ranger fan because his dad was a Ranger fan. No matter what drew him to the screen, however, what's important is that a life-long passion with the game was sparked that fateful spring - a passion that still burns as brightly today as it did the day that six-year-old picked up a hockey stick and, though he threw and wrote with his right hand, put it in his left so he could play like Brian Leetch.
As he grew, however, that boy watched the game he loves get torn down; the abandon with which he optimistically threw himself into every season gradually replaced by an ever-ossifying sense of resigned bitterness - the result of an endless array of senseless, reckless, and otherwise mindless decisions. Decisions that seem to contain no rhyme or reason - except, perhaps, the further marginalization of the fan.
The fact is, for too long NHL fans have been forced to exist at the mercy of mad men - made to languish beneath the boot of a league office that makes it far too easy to paint them as greedy, disinterested, and incompetent. For too long we've been ignored, our most basic wishes sacrificed on the altar of Gary Bettman. And for too long we've been forced to support the league and its teams not thanks to its parts, but in spite of them.
In spite of a lockout that cost us the entire 2004-2005 season. In spite of the league's acceptance of its relegation to tertiary television networks. In spite of TV market voodoo that - in Albany, NY for example - blacks out the games of the three New York City-area teams in lieu of those from Buffalo, an extra 139 miles away. In spite of a marketing strategy that extends no further than "If you build it they will come."
And in spite of the fact that when the game was finally beginning to rebound - persevering over all I mentioned above - it was plunged back into another lockout, with little left for fans to do but curse the hand dealt us and find ways to trick ourselves into thinking that someday things will be different, that these two sides will come together.
Even when all of the evidence says they won't.
And while somehow both parties have managed to position themselves in a nebulous gray-area where neither is guilty, the sad truth of it is that they're both at fault. They're both to blame. They're both guilty. Though I rail against the league office, it takes, as they say, two to tango. There has been no compromise. There has been no co-operation.
But really, that matters little. I don't care who's right and who's wrong, who's asking for too much and who's getting too little. I care that once again petulance and foot stomping has superseded the interests of the fans and the health of the league. I care that only those outside its payroll seem to understand that a league still fighting its way off life support can not, and will not, survive the smothering pillow that would be another season lost. I care that there is no hockey.
It is that force, above all, that drove me to pen this article and plead with those involved to put aside their egos and make a deal. Too long have we been without the sport. Please, I implore you, give us back the game we want, and do it now. Don't wait. Otherwise, there may be nothing left to give.
Who's to say if the fans will come back? Who knows if the casual fan watches, or turns away disgusted? I don't. And quite frankly, I shouldn't even be answering. There's no objectivity, here. No matter how jaded I become, I know I'll be back. What's left of the six-year-old won't let me turn away.
I'll watch. I'll root. I'll cheer.
But given all that has happened, I'll hate you for it every second I do.
Damn you for making me beg.