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Past words of lockout wisdom from The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell

The Washington Post’s sports columnists may be failing to write about the current NHL lockout, but they’ve had plenty to say about past collective bargaining agreement battles. In looking through some old Post pieces on the subject, I came across one from March 2011, written by Thomas Boswell on the NFL labor dispute.

Much of Boswell’s column, which suggested that the NFL learn from baseball’s 1994-95 strike and the damage it did to that sport, applies to the current NHL situation as well. Hockey fans might enjoy this part in particular:

There’s another side of the coin: our side. Fans of the NFL, even the most ardent, should also learn something from baseball’s misery: Don’t care. Or care as little as you can. Don’t live and die with the latest twist in talks. If the current 24-hour extension leads to progress, that’s great. But if this moment of hope leads to nothing, be prepared to mock both sides and, when you can, try to laugh. That’s the only pleasure we’re going to get.

Because there is one certainty when labor fights get this intense: Neither side cares about you. If you pick a favorite and scream your opinion, then you’re probably the sucker. The owners will only listen to those who back them. The same goes for the players.

The sound that really worries them is silence. Try to provide it.

Perhaps the scariest parallel between baseball then and football now is the idea that the healthier the sport, the less likely a disaster. That’s backward. Lots of money on the table brings out the worst in people, seldom the best.

I’m not ready to go silent yet, but I’m certainly not taking sides either. I place blame for hockey’s current situation on both the owners—whose side includes three-time lockout commissioner Gary Bettman—and the players.

Now’s a fine time to make noise that you don’t appreciate what any of the parties involved in this lockout are doing to the fans. But more importantly, the time when people can really make an impact is when the games finally start-up again. That’s when silence could speak volumes or perhaps millions is a better word, as in millions of dollars in lost revenue.

As I wrote in a lockout-related post earlier this week, “Having waited out a few of these NHL dramas before, I wouldn’t mind seeing the league struggle to draw spectators before things return to normal. Considering the two sides had years to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that could have prevented the cancellation of games and satisfied all parties—including the seemingly forgotten customers—Bettman, the owners and the players deserve it, especially when they’ve behaved as if they learned little, if anything at all, about fan frustration from the 2004-05 lockout.”

Make noise now or go about your business quietly. But when hockey returns, that’s when it’s time for the fans to impose their own lockout, rather than going rushing back to games as if nothing ever happened. Sparse attendance, lackluster merchandise sales and poor television ratings are ways the public can send some well-earned frustration back in the direction of the owners and players.

Perhaps the NHL will never learn, but I’m willing to take a chance that they might by taking my entertainment dollars elsewhere for a bit.

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