I’ve been trying to get to the gym three times weekly (go me!). It’s working so far, I think. I’m not at the point where I really enjoy it yet, but I’m getting there. I’ve noticed that most of my t-shirts (which have now been deemed “gym shirts”) are all NHL shirts. I guess at some point I got rid of the myriad shirts I had from events in college and was left with Mets shirts or hockey shirts. Half of the Mets shirts I have feature players that aren’t Mets anymore (I know, I should just toss those K-Rod and Reyes ones), leaving me with my trusty hockey t-shirts to get me through the week.
Which, to me, poses a problem. I’m struggling with what sort of message I’m sending as I wear them. Am I supporting the players, showing solidarity as the lockout trudges on? Am I accepting defeat and submitting to the sad truth that the league doesn’t care about it’s fans, but I follow along anyway? Or am I just demonstrating that life goes on regardless, and that gosh darn it, I need something to wear on the treadmill? In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably a “first world problem” or a “hipster problem” or whatever term you use to instead of “superficial”, but just go with it, because it’s a dilemma to me.
In 2004, I visited Denver, so of course I stopped at the Pepsi Center. I was thrilled, because I’d never been there before. Alas, it was the summer, and the 04-05 lockout had already been announced. No tours of the arena, no one was around, it was a big old ghost town except for the team store. The upside? Major clearance sales. I cleaned up. Seriously, I saved every penny of my vacation souvenir money for just that purpose (I was on a cross-country trip with my family for a month, this was the last week of the trip, and it’s hard for a teenager to let money burn a hole in your pocket for that long when you don’t have a debit card and it’s literally money in your pocket).
The first lockout was different. I was 100% on the side of the NHLPA, and I hated the NHL for stringing us along. That night in February ’05 when it seemed like part of the season would be salvaged, just to have that carpet ripped out from under us two days later? It killed me. It was frustrating, and it was exasperating to deal with people that said it didn’t matter, since no one cared about hockey anyway. I cared about hockey. And so I wore my t-shirts, wore my Bring Back Hockey bracelets, and took every opportunity to say with pride “I care that there’s a lockout, I want my NHL back”. Sure, I was mocked by my high school classmates, but I was used to it: like I said, I’m a Mets fan.
This time, I’m not so sure about where my support lies. Both sides are dragging their feet. With escrow and European hockey leagues flourishing, the NHLPA doesn’t seem to be in much of a rush to resolve this. I can’t really blame the players that say they’re enjoying the KHL and don’t care about returning, hockey just isn’t a huge sport in the USA. But part of that is poor management, trying to force market success in cities where there shouldn’t be ice in June, and year after year of “will-they-or-won’t-they” labor talks. Bettman and his team have essentially said that the fans will come back no matter what, that for the time being, they aren’t the ones that matter (where else does he think that magical “hockey related revenue” is going to come from? The contract they signed with OLN*?). So I say to both sides: darn it, the fans are what’s important, get cracking and get this deal done so we can see you play.
And thus the dilemma. This time around, If I wear an Avs shirt, I feel like I’m saying:
You know what, Bettman? You’re right. I’m just a sucker for a good hockey game, and I’ll be back just like you say I will. One year, five years, ten years from now when this lockout is finally resolved, I’ll be there. And then when you have another lockout, I’ll be there again. I’m a glutton for punishment and here’s the t-shirt to prove it.
I don’t want to feel that way, but that’s the primary message, isn’t it? This lockout, it’s not a show of solidarity, it’s a sign of defeat. It’s not me saying “look, we do still care about hockey and we miss it like crazy”, it’s me saying “look, hockey fans are all doormats, feel free to walk all over us and we’ll still wear your damn merchandise”. It’s a reluctant approval of the state of the league. Maybe I’m not buying new things, and maybe I’m not visiting the NHL Store, which is usually a perennial favorite around Christmastime, but I’m still showing my passive support.
So this is a problem. Because if I banish these t-shirts to the back of my dresser I won’t have enough gym clothes. Which just means I have to buy more.
*Yeah, I know, it’s NBC Sports now. But the NHL couldn’t have anticipated that when they signed the contract, they put themselves on the Outdoor Life Network because it was the only channel that would have them. And at this point, even that contract isn’t working in the NHL’s favor. If there isn’t a season this year NBC is paying them anyway, but then the NHL returns the favor by giving them a year of free hockey after the contract is up. That’s just swell.