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Opinion: Big League Greed an Insult to Sports Fans

November 8, 2012

Scott Schlaufman

Whenever I meet someone and tell them what I do for a living, there's always a bit of curiosity about just why I do what I do. What is it about sports writing that's always kept me pursing this career since I was a sophomore in high school?
For the most part, it's always been the same thing — sports generally make people happy.
Other sections in the paper might be filled with death, destruction and murder, but sports writing is ultimately about one team that won a game, one team that lost a game, and the athletic prowess that made the difference.
The outcomes are clear, the results decided, and the efforts are on the field. At least in North Dakota.
Otherwise, those statements seem to apply less and less to the highest level athletes and teams with each passing year.
Whether it's a matter of Lance Armstrong forfeiting his Tour de France titles for his alleged cheating, the so-called "steroid era" of baseball that has left many people skeptical of performances in the 90s, or even the actions of Jerry Sandusky that caused numerous headaches at Penn State University, it seems like the sports page is starting to fill with "bad news" at an alarming rate.
But of all the bad news, nothing has gotten under my skin more than the trend of lockouts in sports. Despite a terrible economy throughout the nation, three of the "big four" sports leagues in North America have had players locked out in the last two years.
There was the NFL lockout last season, which, thankfully, got figured out in time to avoid losing games. Around the same time, there was the NBA lockout, which was figured out by Christmas in a situation that made lemonade out of lemons.
This year, the NHL, which lost its entire 2004-2005 season to a lockout, is back at it again.
Truth be told, I don't know all the details, largely because I am what you call a "casual fan." I grew up in the glory days of the Colorado Avalanche. I remember the thrill of 1996, when the Avs swept the Florida Panthers for their first Stanley Cup, and 2001, when Ray Borque finally hoisted the cup.
But after Patrick Roy retired and the Avs started losing talent, I dropped right into a realm of lukewarm apathy, which wasn't helped by the 2004 lockout.
The lockout hurt the league's relationship with many "casual" fans, but all of us were lured back and it wasn't until recently that the league seemed to regain the mainstream audience it had lost.
That took almost seven years, even with genius of the annual Winter Classic game, played outdoors each year at venues such as Chicago's Wrigley Field, and young breakout stars like Sydney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin.
Yet here we are again. The league's canceling games and, worst of all, axed this year's Winter Classic, which was scheduled for New Year's Day in Detroit. Instead of 100,000 people watching hockey at Michigan Stadium, there will be zero. Why?
Because in a terrible economy, owners and players are fighting to determine who gets how much money in a league worth more than any of us could imagine.
Much like any other lockout in national sports, it's a battle of millionaires and billionaires, and frankly, it's a shame.
There are people across our country who are jobless, not because of their own fault, but because of the times. In places such as Detroit, California, or Colorado, which aren't fortunate enough to have oil in their back yard, things have changed.
Along main streets in major towns, there are buildings that remain empty, their tenants, businesses both large and small, are a memory. Every day, more homes are taken from families who can no longer afford their mortgage, leaving them evicted and looking for new ways to live.
It's not just a few people, it's massive problem.
Yet, in the darkest of nights, those affected by a national crisis can't get the simple pleasure of watching hockey. Not because the teams aren't getting fan support, but because the negotiating parties need a few extra hundred dollar bills to light their cigars with.
That's not even accounting for the people who make their living working at the arena during games or those who work at the businesses around the arenas. The ushers at the arena. The bars directly across the street. Unlike the millionaires and billionaires set to lose nothing, there are lots of hard working people who will continue to be affected by the greed of the NHL lockout.
Fans should be insulted. We're struggling to make ends meet, yet these bargaining parties expect us to pity them with their multimillion dollar television deals and constant revenue stream, all while increasing the cost of the very merchandise that fans purchase on a daily basis.
It's at a point where I ponder whether losing another NHL season is really a loss.
After all, we are fortunate enough to live in an area where hockey is rampant.
Just a short drive from here, we have the world famous University of North Dakota Still-Kinda-Sioux hockey team. An even shorter drive will get you to see the Fargo Force, where you can get up to the glass for cheaper than parking at an NHL game.
There's even the local youth teams, such as the Valley City Vipers, the Jamestown/Valley City Prowl or even the Jamestown High School hockey team, which should have plenty of Valley City players.
The difference between those teams and the NHL? There's a guarentee that you'll see them on the ice as schedule, and that when you read about them here in the paper, it's because of the good they're doing.
You'll read about them not because they're bickering, not because they can't figure things out off the ice, but because they're playing, they're playing well, and they're accomplishing great things.
Whether it's hockey, basketball, you name it, local teams play for the right reasons. There are few prima donnas, instead opting for a team mentality. Best of all? You can be guarenteed that the teams at Valley City State and Valley City High School will never miss a game without good reason.
In an era where big time teams are squeezing fans for every dollar, it's the simplicity of local sports that serve as a reminder of everything we love about sports to begin with.

Scott Schlaufman is the sports editor for the Times-Record. He's found wherever sports are being played, unless the Denver Broncos are on. You can follow him at Twitter.com/ScottySchlauf.

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