Gary Bettman has held the post of National Hockey League Commissioner since 1993. He was named Sports Executive of the Year in 2014. During his tenure, league revenue has boomed from 400 million to 4 billion. His most recent yearly compensation was 10 million dollars. Not too shabby. But with money and profit come responsibility.
Bettman is regularly booed in various arenas around the league, ranging from his appearances at the yearly NHL draft to his annual presentation of the Stanley Cup. When asked if the negativity ever bothered him, he once said, “Not doing this job, no. You’re always going to have critics. What I’ve always told people: If I take the ice and it’s completely silent, then I’ll know I’m in trouble.”
So if you’re watching the Stanley Cup finals, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the San Jose Sharks. You may have seen Bettman’s recent appearance on the NHL Network. He ventured to my hometown of Pittsburgh on Monday, May 30, 2016. Many sports analysts took note of his unusual behavior and appearance. He’s normally calm and measured. But that night, he appeared flustered and discombobulated.
I take full responsibility for this “physiological shift” outside Consol Energy Center. You see, I had an encounter with Mr. Bettman and explained my concerns about outdated arena emergency evacuation protocol.
I handed him and his sharp-dressed henchman a simple flyer. Amazing how a sheet of paper with some words on it can turn someone who’s normally as cool as a cucumber… into a pale, white ghost. It was as if the ice on the rink had suddenly melted right before game 1.
Try reading it and you’ll see what I mean.
Bettman was there to be interviewed about NHL expansion in Las Vegas and Quebec City. He was there to address the state of the game. Instead, he had to worry about the NHL’s “dirty little secret.” Of course, arena safety across the nation is just the tip of the iceberg.
I guess it all comes down to the million dollar question. Are the commissioners, or caretakers of professional sports (NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL, NASCAR, UFC, etc.), aware of the fact that virtually everyone in the crowd has a cell phone capable of receiving potentially dangerous, real-time information? My position — either they’re totally oblivious which would mean they’re all excruciatingly incompetent OR they’re aware of the fundamental security disconnect and refuse to take any meangingful action. Trust me. It doesn’t take an observational genius to figure out it’s the latter. You can’t have it both ways.
Because not only does this exact same paradox apply to professional sports, it also applies to every government agency (DHS, NSA, FCC, FEMA, etc.) and the individuals that represent all branches of government (executive, judicial and legislative). And oh yeah, it also applies to every country on the planet earth. That’s a helluva lot of people who seemingly have never conceived of an absurdly generic concept — the modern, technological equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.
Is it all just one big coincidence? No, it’s not. Am I the only person on the planet earth who has thought of this? No, I’m not. It’s called a catch-22. Acknowledge a problem and you own it. And if something bad happens, you reap the blame.
Why doesn’t anyone have the courage to address the problem? That should be relatively obvious. Plausible deniability, hypothetical litigation and the lose-lose proposition. A bit less obvious is the nasty generational warfare precedent a/k/a weaponizing a human stampede. Killing and injuring innocent human beings without conventional weaponry is a matter of tremendous consequence.
Society has demonstrated time and time again that it’s often difficult to resolve transformational civil rights issues with regard to public safety and situational awareness.
* At the micro level: genetically modified organisms, medicinal marijuana, concussions in sports, etc.
* At the macro level: drunk driving, airport screening, protests and free speech zones, etc.
The artificially generated stampede is no different. If you approach the issue with a long-term event horizon, it will eventually become necessary to have the conversation. The only question is when.
Humanity is not stagnant. One of these days, someone is going to test the cracks in the system. If there’s a tragedy, people will react the ways they often do. Many will pray. Many will cry. Some will celebrate. Some will feel hostility and rage. But most importantly, mankind will ask the bigger questions.
* Why did this happen.
* How did it happen.
* What can we do to prevent it from happening again.
So here’s the moral of the story. If you seek the truth, I’d avoid bothering Gary Bettman. He probably wishes he’d never stepped foot in the Burgh. It reminds me of that poignant Dionne Warwick song written in 1968… Do you Know the Way to San Jose.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news Mr. Bettman. But that’s what friends are for.