On Gary Bettman’s apology to fans

We live in an Apology Culture, so Gary Bettman had to say he was sorry to the players, the NHL’s “partners” and the fans in announcing the ratification of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Wednesday. And then because we live in Apology Culture, half the hockey world was declaring it wasn’t good enough, while the other half labeled it as an insincere platitude from an indifferent commissioner.

But I think Gary Bettman was sincere. I think he’s sorry to the players for having transformed the good will of the last seven years into acrimony. I think he’s sorry to the “partners”, because NBC Sports Network’s ratings cratered and beer breweries were asking for reparations through the media. I think he’s sorry for the relationships that were strained by the lockout, be it the ones in his ownership inner circle or with someone like John Collins, who sat and watched the lockout negotiators take a sledge hammer to everything he’d built in the last several years.

And yes, I think he’s sorry to the fans. I’m just hoping he understands exactly for what he’s apologizing.

Bettman said:

“We know that no words of apology or explanation will soften the disappointment. I read the letters. I followed the tweets. I read the blogs. We have a lot of work to do. The National Hockey League has a responsibility to win back your trust and support, whether you watch one game or every game.”

Good on Bettman for not saying “anger” here. Because that wasn’t what was emanating from the fans during the lockout. It was apathy.

They didn’t care. No one was marching on NHL headquarters. No one was steamrolling NHL swag during a radio show stunt. Many fans on both sides of the border were content to move on with life. If the NHL came back, great; if it didn’t, no biggie.

That should scare the ever-loving crap out of Gary Bettman.

There’s a difference between passion and dedication. We see passion every time the puck drops for a rivalry game or the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s nothing like it. Dedication’s a different animal, and I wonder if the “casual fan” so often mentioned in conjunction with the NHL is simply a fan that, for whatever reason, can’t fully commit to live and die with this game like so many of us do, although they’d like to.

There should have been anger over the lockout. There wasn’t, or at least not enough of it. Maybe that’s just a symptom of sports fans being so jaded by labor strife that we switch off until the CBA is signed. Maybe it’s because the media in the U.S. stopped talking about hockey when there was no hockey to talk about. Maybe it’s a symptom of the NHL not having its hooks as deep into fans as it believed it did.

Whatever the case, one hopes Bettman gives equal consideration to the letters he didn’t read, or the tweets he didn’t receive, or the blogs that went dark for several months. He’s right: The NHL needs to rebuild trust with its fans, and should be apologetic for violating that trust. But more than trust, a reciprocated dedication needs to be established.

Although maybe, in the end, we all know the NHL can live without us, so the feeling’s mutual ...

Here’s Bettman announcing the end of the lockout on Wednesday:

And, for comparison’s sake, in 2005

(Does anyone have a clip of the 1995 presser?)