Yesterday, following a night where I got little sleep due to fatherly duties and an ill-conceived desire to bait racist Obama-haters on the internets at 4 am, I awoke to a familiar theme in my Twitter feed from a familiar source. Jeremy White, WGR morning show pocket rocket, was criticizing the NHLPA and players for their (alleged) insistence on portraying themselves as victims. He doesn't think fans - not most fans, but ANY fans - buy that kind of meme, and he thinks fans - not some fans, but ALL fans - will eventually turn on the players as a result. In a stunning bit of word gymnastics, he criticized the NHLPA for a PR strategy while, in a subsequent response, claiming that PR is irrelevant.
Though, perhaps stupidly, I chose to engage. I had points to make, what with White's consistent anti-labor diatribes and my general sympathy for those wishing to adhere to contractual principles of fairness. Out of character for me, I had enough restraint to make my points without calling Mr. White a douchebag or fascist or idiot or any number of things that I thought then and have thought since. I'm a documented asshole, and these are the kinds of things I think sometimes. I went to law school, in part, to channel my energy more constructively so people would like me more. So, I tried to be nice, tried to be persuasive, and generally found myself colliding with a brick wall of contrarian nonsense in consistent support of NHL ownership's power grab. Huh. #StateSponsoredRadio
Using my conversation with White as a point of reference, Outlander talked yesterday about how disappointing WGR and the Buffalo News tend to be with their lockout coverage - something not exclusive to WNY - and how it's especially disappointing given the general sophistication (meaning attention to details, not necessarily expertise or general intelligence) of Buffalo hockey fans. Outlander made the point, long obvious, but no less true, that we deserve better.
Outlander also left the door open for future debate. And since the lockout may or may not be close to ending, and since my conversation with Mr. White, by it's nature on twitter, was character limited and, perhaps more importantly, unavailable to fans of the Deeg not on Twitter, I wanted to take an opportunity to flesh a few things out.
And since I (and others) already did the polite discussion routine to no avail, I can't promise I'm not about to be a huge dick right now. You've been warned.
So, you're saying you know more than us because you associate with more fans than us? And you're willing to use the impossible to disprove, but still looks bullshit on its face, "I'm different than 99.9% of everyone else, so don't bother trying to disagree, since there's no way you could understand" rebuttal. Well done. Though, that may be the last compliment you get, you milquetoast pile of obfuscation, so don't get used to it.
This is, of course, a dumbfuckingly stupid argument from White, and is sort of tangential to my thoughts on the lockout. But, if you work for sports radio and think that the folks that call in are a representative sampling of sports fans in your market, you are (a) completely delusional as to the importance of your craft, and (b) completely delusional as to the quality of your audience. Or, as more aptly summed up by The Yachtsman,
But, dry hump us on the pants, Jeremy White knows what's what because he works in sports radio, and he's here to set the record straight.
Don't mind me, though. I'm just the guy that can't get in lockstep with the supposed majority opinion on overpaid players being big whining babies. White could smell blood in the water, and he was about to out me for the player-sympathetic pussy I am.
Mind. (controlled by hapless sports radio personality). Blown.
Seriously, though, this is probably the first time I had to suppress the instinct to just call White a dickbag and pack it in. My better angels prevailed, so instead of freaking out at the insinuation that my well-thought opinion was too worthless to be held by anyone on Earth, I responded calmly.
But, let's be clear -- the owners signed deals that they're now trying to get out of - both the CBA and individual player contracts - and they're doing it while putting the season under the knife and pressuring fans to throw their hands up and demand a deal be done for the fans' sake. This is a smart strategy - many casual fans choose not to learn about or care about the intricacies of the labor dispute and are likely to just see a bunch of rich folks arguing over how to split a big fucking pie. Compared to the pleb NHL fans, the whole lot of them seem to be a bunch of douchebags.
There are those among us who choose a nuanced view, however, maybe because we think someone shouldn't get publicly fucked just because they happen to make a buttload of money, or maybe because we have an affinity with the players who bleed and sweat for us rather than the owners who charge us our ticket prices. After all, the truth of the lockout exists between the two bargaining sides - whether they're stupid rich or not - and it doesn't do me any good in understanding the dispute to just assume that everyone involves sucks a mean dick because they make more money than I do. Closing myself off to that kind of understanding is willful ignorance. I choose a different path.
White, on the other hand, sees the players' insistence on moral and ethical standards to be a petty nuisance within the context of what really matters.
This is where I realized that I might be fighting an uphill battle against someone who simply doesn't believe right and wrong have any place in a debate about who to sympathize with. This struck me as mind-boggling - if we're all sitting here, trying to decide who to side with (since we have to side with SOMEONE, and blame SOMEONE), shouldn't right and wrong come into it? Not just the woefully inadequate position of "he seems like a dick because he's whining too much about his millions and won't just shut his mouth and play hockey for my enetertainment?" Especially because, when it comes to contracts and business, right and wrong isn't some nebulous concept but actually laid out in law?
Contract law, as a general principle, is built upon the idea that a contract creates certainty. Party A agrees to pay Party B, and Party B agrees to perform some task, whether it be service over a period of time or delivery of goods or playing center for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Time for performance and payment can be specified, to increase certainty, and the law exists to enforce the contract where one party shirks his duty to pay or to perform. What the NHL owners have chosen to do, seemingly because they just couldn't help themselves from signing a bunch of crazy ass deals, is throw certainty out the window and demand a change in the contractual terms they already agreed to.
Thing is, as another aspect of contract law, parties are generally not permitted to change the terms of a prior contract without giving something up. In other words, the consideration (a legal term of art) already on the table - money in exchange for goods or services - applies to the deal already made. A change in the deal - say, an alteration to the money paid for the performance or the length of the deal - would require additional consideration, not because the party to the contract says it needs something extra, but because contract law demands it. No consideration, no contract.
These rules, of course, don't apply so uniformly in the sports world. As I already mentioned, the collective bargaining agreements alter the rules a little bit. But, as an observer of this labor dispute who knows a little bit (and that's not an understatement, really) about contract law, I find the whole thing absurd. I find it absurd that owners can alter their own obligations under their players' contracts by creating duress for those players by locking them out. I find it absurd that they choose this tactic of duress at a time when the league was doing so well. I find it absurd that, just because they have the power, they get to make the rules, in contravention of the principles that apply consistently to the rest of us.
Of course there's another side to the debate. And OF COURSE I get that people are angry. But, laws are laws, and the whole concept that laws don't apply to a set of people because they're in power is fucking offensive to me. And it should, on some level, be offensive to us all.
But, apparently, not Jeremy White. At least not that he would admit on #StateSponsoredRadio.
Not so much.
The fucking balls on this guy. I'll give him that.
No matter that some powerful Americans (and NHL owners) got their wealth through inheritance, not merit, or through environmental exploitation, not virtuous pursuits. Remember: right and wrong don't matter to Buffalo's modern day Jeremiah Rusk.
White liked to pat himself on the back, over the course of our conversation, that he was concentrating on "reality"; on the "way things are." In a sense, he's absolutely right. It is true that the NHLPA must walk a fine line in PR or else risk losing fan support. It is true that they can easily overstate their position and, in the process, sour many fans.
But, this isn't the whole story. And Mr. White has to know that. Right?
Fans are allowed to have nuanced views on topics; to agree with White's point about PR but also see the broader truth that, in the end, the owners chose contracts and are now choosing to undo them at the expense of NHL fan experience. This is just as much "reality" as anything Jeremy White tweeted today, and I would argue that it's actually a more fundamental reality than his claim that owners have, and somehow deserve, carte blanche just because they have a financially advantageous position. They signed away that complete power when they signed a bunch of athletes to professional contracts. They GAVE the players certain rights at that point. Now they want to make changes and it's not insane to want to call bulllshit. It's fucking necessary unless we all want to be back here in another seven years griping about how Girgensons is missing a season in his prime.
Maybe I'm overly sympathetic to the players. As alluded to earlier, I have an affinity to their position because they're the handsome jacks out there on the ice on the other end of my cheers. And I like cheering for them.
But I also like cheering for predictable outcomes and fairness and the operation of law that I spent three years of my life learning and the last four years (and counting) practicing. These are things that matter to me. And, because they are also the things that provide the true backbone of this country - unlike rollbacks and outsourcing and whatever else Jeremy White wants to argue is the reality of this country - I feel like it's not asking too much to have those kinds of concepts be valued components of the debate about this lockout.
In choosing his tunnel-visioned "no one buys what the players are selling" conclusion today, and many recent days, White values a hollow version of the truth about the lockout. He values a conversation focused on appearances and accepting the arguably unjust imbalance of power held by owners - because, as he argues, that's just the way things work - rather than one concerned with fairness and the substance of the underlying negotiations going on between the NHL and the NHLPA. By choosing such a shallow value, he also allows those more fundamental questions about ownerships' culpability to go unacknowledged - even going so far as to say it "doesn't matter."
Well, and maybe it's just me, but I think it does matter. And, Mr. White, I think you're a hack for your adamant refusal to admit it.
Follow me on Twitter @theycallmedubs.