• Language of Denial: Fehr vs Bettman in the News

    by  • October 6, 2012 • Blog, Editorial, Features, Hockey, Media, Sean Cranbury • 1 Comment

    Hockey Puck

    Photo by John Keogh: Creative Commons.

    THEY’VE TORCHED training camps and the preseason exhibition schedule.

    They’ve started to burn the earliest games of the regular season.

    Players are working out in small groups together at arenas across North America while some of their teammates pick up gigs playing in the KHL or the European Elite Leagues.

    The team owners are busy doing whatever it is they do.

    The NHL is in full-on stalemate mode and the soundbites one hears on the news or views in the rags and on the internet read like the Playbook for Meaningless Rhetoric.

    Bill Daly moves his lips and sounds come out but their relationship to a sincere objective reality is tenuous at best.

    The Fehr brothers offer considered but tractionless commentary and the occasional ping pong analogy.

    The media? They mostly just lope along beside the league like a loyal but vacuous hound careful not to affront or unduly question their bread and butter supplier.

    Oh, really, Darren Dreger? Nothing new to report? And no commentary or insight or critical analysis either.

    How surprising.

    Let’s just call it what it is: the sports media is compromised by their own internal tensions related to overlapping ownership considerations – team owners are also in some cases owners of media outlets – and politics related to future exclusive broadcast deals. It is not in their long-term best interest to poke the league with potentially harmful analysis no matter what the instincts of the individual journalists might be.

    So it was a nice to see the Globe and Mail deploy the irascible Jeff Blair and the mild-mannered Roy MacGregor to interview Don Fehr and Gary Bettman and to let those two men’s positions on the current labour situation speak clearly and without filter to the public.

    Blair put questions to Fehr while MacGregor interviewed Bettman.

    The responses that both men gave are quite interesting and revealing. The language that each man uses to formulate their public stance, take the occasional jab at their counterpart, and sometimes to avoid speaking directly to difficult questions is fascinating.

    You can read the individual interviews here: Donald Fehr vs Gary Bettman.

    Here’s some highlights and my analysis of the interviews.


    Confident, loquacious, highly literate, uses specific language to go directly after a point and articulate it clearly and with more artfulness than Bettman does.

    Fehr offers a richer reading experience than Bettman does and seems more at ease speaking at length about the issues at hand. This may be because he has spent so much time with the MLB and has operated on stages much bigger than the NHL and already has a strong relationship with the media.


    Fehr can play this game at an elite level, plays with an elevated style, and makes the people around him better.

    The NHL player whom he most resembles: Doug Gilmour.


    … one of the things we wonder is that if you have to have a rule like the owners do, where if you say anything that isn’t approved, you can be fined an enormous amount of money? That raises two questions: When in the world did we get to the point of regulating free speech in America again? And secondly, what is it we’re afraid they’re going to say?


    Opaque, circumspect, on script. No surprises here. Gary gives us what we expect and little more.

    He reads from the league mandated boilerplate and never puts himself in a position where his words might be open to interpretation.

    He’s not a folksy guy and he doesn’t care what you think. He’s just doing his job.


    A hard-nosed, reliable defender that spends a lot of time in the penalty box of public opinion. Doesn’t bother him. Plays for his teammates, known for devastating hits in open ice (see, Goodenow, Bob).

    The NHL player whom he most resembles: Scott Stevens.


    Our first offer was obviously a starting point for negotiations.

    And so it goes.


    Sean Cranbury is a freelance writer by day and bartender by night. He grew up playing baseball in the summers and hockey in the winters. He is Executive Editor at Books on the Radio Projects and is Host/Curator at the Real Vancouver Writers' Series. Sean lives in east Vancouver.


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