Dave Zirin’s must-read at The Nation sheds a little light on those who are fighting the NHL labor war—namely, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, who got his start as an NHL executive and shepherd of the game by partnering at the union-busting law firm Proskauer Rose, a group which has represented owners and leagues in each of the last four pro sports lockouts.
As Zirin mentioned, Proskauer “is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role.”
Sports are big business and sports owners have big money, so it’s little surprise they employ a big firm to represent their big interests.
Here’s how Sports Business Journal described the big firm in 2001, when Bettman already had a labor dispute under his belt:
Ironically, Proskauer prides itself on not having a sports law department per se. Beyond the sports realm, Proskauer ranks as one of the largest corporate law firms in the country, especially in labor and employment issues. Proskauer’s labor lawyers are heavily recruited by several industries. But in terms of sports, its attorneys specialize in other areas and then are brought into sports law work.
Bolding is mine. It nicely outlines why we’re in the midst of the third NHL owners’ lockout in less than two decades.
Bettman, the representative tasked with implementing owners’ interests into the league operating manuals, is an attorney whose specialty in labor disputes tells the entire story of his actions as NHL Commissioner.
Lawyer first, hockey second.
From the same article:
Most Proskauer alumni cite the firm’s nurturing atmosphere and its ties to leagues and teams for creating what has become America’s incubator of sports business leadership.
The NHL’s Bettman said, “As a young lawyer, I found a great environment for developing and teaching young lawyers their craft.” Also important, Bettman said, was that Proskauer early on had the NBA as a client. “That kept them on the cutting edge of sports issues,” he said.
Bettman and NBA Commissioner David Stern are both products of Proskauer, which now has alumni at the head of the half of the big four sports leagues, all of which it represents. They’re certainly cut from the same cloth. Bettman and Stern have overseen five lockouts in the last 13 years. The NFL experienced one labor dispute in that time, in 2011, which resulted in no lost games. MLB has had constant labor peace for almost two decades.
Neither the NFL nor MLB has a Proskauer alumnus as its commissioner.
Though Bettman and Stern both got their starts in the NBA, fans shouldn’t distrust Bettman as a basketball guy who doesn’t know how to handle the hockey industry—they should fear him as a union-busting lawyer who doesn’t give a damn about hockey, its players or its fans.
NHLPA Director Donald Fehr is a lawyer, too, and he’s a union boss whose experience with the NHL spans only a few years. Like Bettman, he’s no hockey guy. But the national climate is not one of concessions by the wealthy for the betterment of the many. Even if Fehr takes a hardline stance against owners, it’ll be hard to fault him for fighting to retain workers’ rights (even if many of those workers happen to be millionaires) at a time when the revenues of ownership have never been higher.
Bettman’s job is to make money for his owners, and that’s really what this lockout is all about. Not the players, the fans or the game. It’s about money. It’s about owners getting what they want, and being in a position to have their way no matter what. And they’ve had a product of one of the best union-busting corporate megalodons in the country at the head of the negotiations each time around.
And if the latest NHL proposal (which despite the nice congruous feeling that “50-50″ provides still means a 12 percent paycut for players) somehow turns into an 82-game season, it won’t be because Bettman and his owners wanted the season to happen in the interest of the game’s greater good. It’ll be because they can make more money with a full slate of games, and the salary savings of a full-season lockout may not cover the difference of the forfeited revenues.
Follow the dollar signs. Labor this, revenue that. Legalspeak. Dumbspeak. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.
It has nothing to do with hockey.