NHL CBA Negotiations and the Concept of Fairness

As owners, fans, and players alike all wait for the next episode in the NHL’s made-for-TV drama, “Failed CBA Negotiations”, the concept of what is “fair” has repeatedly shown up.

The owners are supposedly offering a “fair” deal (and PR spin at no additional cost!) with a 50/50 split and a make whole provision. The players want to be treated “fairly” (because apparently they are treated like animals) and want an eventual 50/50 split with their current contracts honored in full.

What does fairness even mean in these negotiations anymore? Does it even matter?

From a very young age, usually before grade school even begins, kids are taught the concept of what is fair. As a child, fairness simply revolves around everyone getting an even amount of playing time or people earning the praise they receive. The concept is taught in an ideal manner to kids who view the world as black or white, where everyone gets what they deserve even if no one can explain how that is supposed to work out.

As if the concept isn’t difficult enough to understand and describe as a child, adults struggle even more with fairness as they view the world in shades of gray. Words such as justice and equality enter the equation as adults try to adhere to the concepts they learned as children. Though the dictionary has 27 definitions of the word “fair”, here are the two that matter most in this situation:

Fair – adjective, 1) free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice, 2) legitimately sought, pursued, done, given, etc.

Based on life lessons and those definitions, there is no question that it would be “fair” for all NHL players to receive the full salaries that they have already negotiated and signed contracts for. That is simply a fact. The only fair thing to do would be to pay the players what was already agreed upon.

This is where I will take an abrupt left turn and suggest that the concept of “fair” is garbage though. Life isn’t fair. The world conveys that message to billions of people on a daily basis. Whether in terms of illnesses, living situations, employment, or even bad calls on the ice (skate in the crease, Brett Hull?), striving for fairness is illogical in an inherently unfair world.

In the battle of the NHL vs. the NHLPA, the positions are pretty clear-cut. The owners, many of whom are wealthy beyond our imaginations, DO NOT need the NHL as an income. They can continue on with this lockout indefinitely with their riches, even if a few of them may not want to. The players DO need hockey as an income and a career. There are plenty of alternatives to the NHL, but not for everyone in the NHLPA. So while the NHLPA and their players fight for fairness, the NHL and their owners fight from a lofty position of power.

In an unfair world, power > fairness.

Enroth is heading to Sweden while he waits for a fair deal. – Photo by Andy Martin Jr

Do you know what’s truly not a fair deal, Jonas Enroth? It’s not fair that hundreds of people are currently looking for work because they were laid off by NHL teams or hockey-influenced organizations in a battle they had no say in. It’s not fair that hundreds of businesses are seeing massive dips in revenue because they turned out to be collateral damage in a labor war. But alas, they all move forward because they have accepted that life is inherently unfair and they must continue on anyways.

Fix the problem, players, and accept that you are in an unfair bargaining position and that life is unfair. As soon as you do that, an agreement will be reached and hockey will be played in the NHL again. I promise that you’ll forget just how “unfair” life was to you once you’re collecting at least a six-figure salary again.

This lockout shouldn’t be about fairness anymore, it should be about reality.

Not everyone can win in labor negotiations, or win in the game of life. But if a player doesn’t view playing in the NHL, even with a discounted salary, as a win…maybe it’s unfair to the rest of the world that he ever had the chance at all. But I guess that’s reality, a concept that every player might want to consider very soon.

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