My favorite sport, the one I have been interested in the longest, is hockey. I love to watch people play. I love to play it myself (or at least mess around with a stick and puck).
Heck, I even draw a comic about hockey. (Shameless plug!)
So it was with great sadness that I found out that the 2012-13 season was in jeopardy as the National Hockey League’s player’s union and its team owners battled it out over how much the players were played. The talks degenerated quickly and the players have been “locked out” of their paid playing opportunities since early in the fall. Since then more than half the season has been canceled. The truly exciting “Winter Classic” was canceled.
And fans? They’re angry and frustrated.
Even the NHL Network has pretty much given up. Now it’s broadcasting games from the Canadian Hockey League.
And despite occasional bursts of activity, things look quite dismal for the remainder of the season, the playoffs and the Stanley Cup finals.
But then yesterday a Canadian politician officially offered up a great alternative: Award the Stanley Cup to the top amateur hockey team.
Sounds a lot like the way the Gaelic Athletic Association operates. Unlike so many other premiere sports leagues around the world, the GAA doesn’t pay its athletes. In fact, it strictly forbids it. Yet every year, it fills massive stadiums in Ireland for its games of hurling and gaelic football. And across the world, more and more teams are springing up for these games every year.
But instead of letting the best players go to the highest bidder — as they do in virtually every other team sport in the world — the players of hurling and gaelic football fight it out on the pitch for community pride. It’s true. Players aren’t allowed to join any club they want, instead they can only play for the team that’s affiliated with their birthplace.
So, if such a policy were enacted for America’s National Football League, then players born in Pennsylvania would only be allowed to play for the Steelers or the Eagles. Even then, there would probably be some sort of imaginary line splitting Pennsylvania in half to designate boundaries on who goes where.
But I digress.
The point here is the Canadian politician offers an excellent option for the Stanley Cup, and there’s even a few good reasons why it should happen:
- The Stanley Cup was originally meant to awarded to the top amateur team in hockey. Not the professionals, but the guys who had to hold down a day job.
- The Stanley Cup is not controlled by the NHL. It is governed by independent trustees who can award it at their discretion.
- Quite frankly, the NHL and the player’s union need to get the message that the sport of hockey can go on without them.
Further, the fans of the sport could be well served by a wake-up call of their own. Just like the GAA does, the Stanley Cup organization could foster a wave of hometown pride as amateur hockey clubs from across the U.S. and Canada battle it out in a March Madness-style tournament to get their name on the cup.
And the day after these amateur players hoist up the cup? They go back to their jobs and a chorus of “atta boys!”
That’s exactly what happens in the GAA, and it is a spectacular celebration of sportsmanship.