The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/12/12 at 05:46 AM ET
On a Sunday morning where Marie Hallman’s selection of photos from Jens Forsberg’s gallery of Niklas Kronwall’s charity game to raise funds for his first team, Jarfalla HC (heads-up, Wings fans: Gustav Nyquist is wearing the #89 he donned in college, not the #14 the Wings’ website still has him listed as wearing; Jonas Gustavsson’s wearing his Leafs gear and a white jersey, too) and a wisely-placed jab Steve Schrader lays at Ken Holland’s lap given his inability to recruit players the way he’s landed Winter Classic Alumni Showdown participants [edit/update: and who knew Wings scout Marty Stein’s dad was instrumental in the founding of youth soccer programs in Vernon, British Columbia?]...
I’d like to address the tangled web hockey fans find ourselves in this summer. Those who have no particular loyalty to teams or players, but instead, “stories” (a.k.a. the media corps I get to pretend to be a part of) have informed the people whose $3.3 billion dollars of discretionary income the NHL and NHLPA are fighting over—to the point that even optimists like myself would suggest that it’s a coin flip as to whether there will be a lockout—that we should not only think certain ways about the collective bargaining war taking place, but also that we are:
• Suckers for being angry at Gary Bettman;
• Have a moral imperative, as otherwise powerless folk, to leave the game once and for all if the owners lock the players out for the third time in eighteen years and the second time in eight;
• And, most often, are nothing more than the glorified walking dollar signs that both sides seem to view fans as consisting of, if not hopeless, wayward junkies whose addiction empowers the league to browbeat the people who bankroll the owners and players alike, because we truly are nothing more and nothing less than a pathetic lot.
Are there nuggets of truth in each and every viewpoint?
And would the most valiant and brave option for each and every person who pays to attend an NHL game to stop wearing team merchandise, peel bumper stickers and magnets off their vehicles, cancel their season tickets, and engage in said activities holding true to the promise that, should there be a lockout on September 16th, 2012, to never return to the sport, teams and players they’ve cared so deeply for and passionately about?
But these precepts and prescriptions ignore the very fabric of sports fandom that is the split loyalty of every person who does not subscribe to the belief that, as the most jaded media types suggest, we should detest the players, resent the owners, display no loyalty and yet love the sport.
Sports fans both care very deeply for the players who are the product and root for the teams that these players represent. That means that, as much as we hate to admit it, we have emotional as well as financial connections to the players and the owners, to the point that, regardless of whether we tolerate or loathe them, we have figuratively and literally cast our loyalties behind the sides who have chosen to have Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr serve as their CBA representatives. In a very real way, we may not be able to stand them, but Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr are part of a sporting family that we have embraced as our own.
Getting to the point—as I’ve tried to write this a dozen different times in my head, and it has yet to come out “right” yet:
Just as I’ve suggested that no one has the right to tell you what to think or who to believe in this mess, despite my open bias for and stance as a supporter of the players, I think that it’s more than just unrealistic to assume that there is a “right” or “wrong” way to think or believe regarding this feud over our discretionary income.
I think that it’s equally unrealistic to suggest that we are “suckers” or “junkies” for admitting that we care about both our players and our teams, and as such, that we’re…
Probably not going to walk away on principle here, even if there is a lockout. And I don’t believe that admitting so should be greeted with any shame or guilt, either.
I’m a Red Wings fan. I may have learned how to hide it well enough to wander into locker rooms while conducting myself as a professional member of the media, but in the end, I am a Red Wings fan, born, bred, and eventually surrendered to the inevitability thereof in 1991. I’ve been following the Wings since Nicklas Lidstrom’s rookie year, and while I readily admit that I spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, effort and money following professional athletes playing a kid’s game, and readily admit that my bucks banrkoll the bank accounts and egos of millionaires and billionaires, I’m still proud to be a Red Wings fan.
I’m still proud to wear my Red Wings t-shirts and hats, I’m still proud of the Red Wings magnet on the back of my Pacifica, I care about the players, I care about the prospects I’ve come to know over the past five summers, I care about the coaches, the management, yes, the ownership, the whole organization, and I’ve tried to translate that fandom into a profession because being a Wings fan makes me feel good. It makes me feel like I’m part of something bigger than myself, like I’m part of a bigger community, and my fandom via vicariously sharing athletes’ experiences has taken me places I never thought I’d go and helped me make lifelong friends.
Shit, it’s given me a job, and while it may not pay the bills, given my health issues, it’s given me the best chance I have of being useful to others (at least for the present moment, anyway).
I’m furious about the impending lockout, frustrated as can be by the way the owners, Board of Governors and Bettman are behaving themselves, and I have a feeling that I’m going to feel even more strongly so when the players present their CBA counter-proposal on Tuesday, but the best thing I’ve come up with in terms of showing my discontent outside of my blog and my Facebook and Twitter accounts is by suggesting that fans should descend upon New York and Toronto to make sure their faces are seen and their voices are heard by both sides, so that we can show ourselves as more than walking dollar signs or figurative entities both sides cater commentary and propaganda toward. But aside from chanting, waving signs and maybe slapping a few combination locks on doors to force the NHL to call locksmiths or employ hacksaws, that’s as civilly disobedient as I can get (thus far—is there still an NHLFA, or did they get so tired of the silliness and pettiness surrounding the business of this sport that they walked away?).
Maybe in a better world, if I was a better man, I’d suggest that groups of Wings fans head down to the Joe, toss their memorabilia into a pile and set it ablaze, but I don’t have the stomach to do that. I care about the team and players too deeply, and regardless of how far this lockout goes…Too many good things have happened to me and for me because I’m a Wings fan at heart for me to walk away. I can’t do it and I won’t do it.
Instead, I will try to make myself as noisy and annoying as possible during what is essentially an argument between different sides of my hockey family. They are as stuck with me as I am with them, and I do not plan on suffering in silence. But I’m not about to hire a sports fandom divorce lawyer and go off to cheer on Bayern Munich, either.
Something tells me that I’m not alone, and that my torn and conflicted feelings and loyalties as this infuriating process unfolds are not singular. Something tells me that whenever and wherever the Wings eventually hold training camp, I won’t show up alone, either, and if all of this blather has accomplished anything this morning, I hope that it’s convinced at least a few of you whose faces I will see to not show any shame when I see you in Traverse City or down at the Joe.
We are hockey fans, we are Red Wings fans, we care about the players, we care about the team and its ownership, and we care about each other. This lockout business isn’t easy to understand, nor does it represent an event or process that will drive the vast majority of us away from the community we’ve chosen to be a part of—to spend time, energy, effort, and money to be a part of.
We may be suckers.
We may have a moral imperative to walk away.
But we are not junkies, we are not chumps, we are not pathetic, and we are not bad people for caring about both parties involved in what truly is a stupid, stupid argument over $3.3 billion dollars of our spending money which should, in theory, at least give us a voice in a process that is regrettably out of our control.
We’re the ones tangled up in this mess, and while our emotions, biases and loyalties are clearly being taken for granted, jerked around with and batted about like a catnip toy in a fight between angry lions, we matter, we are valuable and we are allowed to remain our contradictory selves as we try to get through this lockout business together.
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About The Malik Report
The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.