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Saturday, April 19, 2014

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Lessons to be learned from hockey lockout

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I lost my interest in professional hockey long ago. While it may be a function of “growing up,” I imagine there is more too it than that. After all, my interest in baseball has waned little, and I still enjoy Olympic hockey – I guess that’s not professional hockey.

The encouragement of violent play, the disregard for player safety coupled with the arrogance of so many (something that infects almost all professional sport), greed and more have turned off this former fan. Apparently my lack of interest is not so uncommon, even in Canada. What likely makes me a bit unique is my interest in the NHL “lockout.” The lessons it teaches about human nature are numerous, more than I can address in this short article. But let’s start with greed.

“Whoever has a hundred wants two hundred,” our sages teach. It boggles the mind how people in their 20s, most with bleak job prospects outside of hockey, are willing to sacrifice a year of a short career because, on average, they earn “only” $2.5 million a year – up close to 70 per cent since the last lockout. Wealth rarely brings happiness – much more often it brings envy and jealousy – those with millions are often upset they don’t have hundreds of millions. How sad!

Even more startling is the number of players who, at a fraction of the salary they would earn in the NHL, are playing overseas. What possible logic could there be for this other than the human desire to defeat the other? Claims by players that they play for the love of the game are both patently false and absolutely true. Man truly will bite off his nose to spite his face.

Undoubtedly labour negotiators will argue that this is a most naive view and such extreme measures are necessary. That may be true if your goal is victory or at least saving face rather than what is in one’s best interest. Concern for the impact on third parties – restaurant owners, ticket sellers, those who really do need the money – is considered a sign of weakness.

While some fans murmur about boycotting hockey outside of a few markets where hockey has never had deep roots, I will be shocked if any negative impact is felt in hockey hotbeds like Toronto. Our sages long understood that claims of what one might do in any given circumstance carry very little weight – what we say we will do and what we do are usually quite different. This is the basis behind the concept of Asmachta, a non-binding agreement, where statements such as, “if I don’t do such and such, I will give you $1,000,” are unenforceable as they do not generate reliance. All know that words alone are pretty meaningless.

The lockout has generated much anger and frustration highlighting the rabbinic dictum that the character of a person can be seen by “kiso, koso, ka’aso,” his money, anger and drinking.

By the time this article is printed, the two sides may have dug in so deep that the season will be cancelled. Even if they reach some kind of agreement, I am looking forward to the sound of “Play Ball”.

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