By all accounts, Gary Bettman is, and has been throughout his career, a very successful, intelligent, and hardworking individual, who, if his salary is any indication, commands great respect amongst the NHL’s owners. He is an ivy-league graduate (Cornell) in Industrial and Labour Relations, and has his J.D. from New York University Law. Under his tenure, the league has grown both in size and in overall profitability, and exposure south of the 49th paralell has been well-nurtured. He is at the helm of the most competitive hockey league in the world, and has been for nearly twenty years.
So why can’t I stop making silly photochops of a man who has dedicated his life to fostering the growth of hockey?
The images above the jump and below this paragraph very obviously refer to the famous scene from the film Monty Python and The Holy Grail (which, if you haven’t seen it, you should set aside everything in your life to check out) where an unruly, uneducated, and bloodthirsty mob bring forward a woman they claim to be a witch. She clearly isn’t one, but her logical appeals go unnoticed in this absurdist film’s world. Similarly, Bettman is a man whose rational approach to the business side of hockey has earned him heaps of unjust ire from fans all over the world, myself included. So why is this still funny?
The answer is that nearly everything about Gary Bettman’s public persona – as well as the pragmatism of the owners he represents in busness – defies (and defiles) traditional hockey values.
When he speaks, it’s not like you or I (and it’s certainly not like most hockey players I’ve known). He speaks ‘Lawyer’ all the time.
"Hey Gary, would you like some lunch?"
"I don’t think it would be constructive to characterize my current nutritional situation at the present time."
And for crying out loud, just look at the man. He’s tiny, it’s possible he was born wearing a suit, and there is nothing, from his I’m-a-New-York-lawyer accent to his build, that suggests the slightest inclination towards athleticism. This is hardly a man that a bunch of beer-swilling althlete idolizers will look up to.
Of course, this is all entirely superficial, but it’s also all anyone in the general public sees of the man, and when his outward appearance matches so closely the archetypal figure the NHLPA would love to demonize, it’s hard not to make the connection.
Part of what makes the contrast so stark is that players – artificially, through media training – speak nothing but heroic and axiomatic quips. They’re just a bunch of gosh-darn simple hockey playin’ farm boys that want to stand up for their teammates in the name of an honour code (eyeroll), while Bettman appears to exist solely to protect corporate interests. This setup has all the subtlety of a James Bond flick. Or a Batman movie, where Bettman gets to play The Penguin.
As a young hockey player, Hans from the Mighty Ducks taught me that hockey was about passion, fair play, and thick socks while skating outdoors. Winning isn’t everything in this game! Heck, even Mr. Ducksworth knew that. It’s difficult to envision Bettman within a locus of brotherly bonds and blood-stained jerseys.
"Gary’s just doing his job," people will say. He is just representing the interests of a group of 29 owners – they’re the ones pulling the strings – so he’s no more despicable than any other corporate lawyer you’ve ever met. In fact, given that a number of the labourers he’s currently in the business of shafting are millionaires, it’s nowhere near as bad as say, helping shaft war veterans. Bettman is practically doing humanitarian work, depending on how far apart you want to set the goal posts.
But enough of this foolish, cartoonish characterization! Mr. Bettman, please, stand up and reveal your passion for hockey! Show all these relentless wolves in the media that on some level you are a relatable human being that cares about something in all this beyond the bottom line!
But I just don’t think he’s willing to ‘characterize’ himself like that.