NHL Lockout Not on Black Fans Radar

If a league cancels its season, but no one notices, did the season ever really exist in the first place? That question, a twist on a familiar philosophical question, summarizes the relationship between black sports fans and hockey.

This week, the National Hockey League (NHL) officially announced it was canceling the remainder of the 2004-2005 season, following a 154 day lockout.  The league and the NHL Player’s Association (NHLPA) had spent the past six months haggling over the possibility of a salary cap that owners believed would allow teams to remain financial solvent and players believed would hamper their ability to negotiate contracts in a free market.  The two sides ended up being about seven million dollars apart on their final offers on the amount of the proposed salary cap. 

Though the negotiations brought the sides relatively close, the comments each side issued following the cancellation revealed how far apart they really were.

“When I stood before you in September, I said NHL teams would not play again until our economic problems had been solved," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said at news conference, according to the Associated Press (AP). “As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce that because that solution has not yet been attained, it’s no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season. Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05.”

“I had hoped we would never see the NHL owners and their commissioner do the unthinkable and cancel an entire NHL season,” NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow said in a statement. “But unfortunately, Gary Bettman and the owners did exactly that today. Gary owes an apology because he started the lockout. He put all of this in motion.”

The lockout was eerily similar to the National Basketball Association’s 1999 lockout, which shortened the league’s 82 game season to 50 games, except for the outrage from black sports fans.  Several sports fans on black college campuses, like Zakiya Tanks, a junior advertising major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., said that they hardly noticed the lockout and were not terribly upset with the lost season.

“I did not know there was a lockout going on,” Tanks said.  “[But] does it even matter? Hockey never seemed to be favored sport amongst the black community.  There are just not a host of blacks that enjoy the sport.”

Steven McCraney, a freshman computer engineering major at Howard University, said that he agreed wholeheartedly with Tanks.

“I am happy hockey is gone,” he said. “It gives more time for NCAA and NBA basketball.  Americans don’t care about hockey; especially not black people.”

Not all black sports fans were ecstatic about the lack of hockey this season.  In fact, a few, like Jamie Suggs, a senior history major at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., said they were disheartened at the most recent developments.

“I’m distressed because I enjoy watching [hockey] on TV,” said Suggs, a six year hockey fan. “I used to enjoy taking my younger stepbrother to watch [games].”

By canceling the season, the NHL became the first major United States professional sports league to lose an entire season to a work stoppage.  The last three to play shortened seasons struggled to reconnect with their fan bases initially, but eventually won them back over.  Only time will tell if the NHL will be as fortunate.  For her part though, Suggs said that she would not completely rule out a return.

“I probably won’t watch it as much, but I might still attend games if my stepbrother still wants to continue going.”