Sunday, September 16, 2012

Another Opinion on the CHLPA

As we continue to wait for details on the structure and plans of the CHLPA...

One of the strongest columns on the CHLPA thus far was penned by Toronto Star writer Cathal Kelly on August 25th. I pulled some quotes from it for the story I wrote a while ago but there was so much more in the original that I wanted to revisit it. 

I thought the best way to go about that was to get the columnist himself on the show. Kelly's write up was no holds barred and cut through all the B.S. so effectively that I couldn't wait to see if, three weeks later, he still felt the same way about the CHLPA.

His appearance on TPS Saturday morning was nothing short of audio gold. 
First, as anyone who listens to the show or reads this blog already knows, some sort of meeting of the minds took place at some point in the not to distant past and they publicly took the name of the CHLPA in August. Beyond a Twitter account, a Facebook page and a former NHL enforcer as it's public face, little is still known about the group. 

A few days ago the CHLPA unveiled a website which, upon its launch, produced error after error on most of its links. The problem seem to have been fixed now and there are even four 1-minute videos available for the public to view. 

The videos are titled "The Origin", "The Mission", "Message to Agents" and my personal favourite, "Message to the Players". I've embedded the video of the latter below for your viewing pleasure. I find it most enjoyable to close my eyes and picture Georges Laraque as William Wallace from Braveheart issuing his famous battle speech, rallying the troops. Maybe this would be more effective if he'd have painted half his face blue. 

I began Saturday's interview with Cathal Kelly by playing a quick snippet from "The Origin", the first chapter in the riveting saga of the CHLPA. I asked Kelly to offer a synopsis of his piece from August for the benefit of listeners who had not come across the story when it first was published. 

"What this is, is economics in reverse; it's creating supply where there is no demand," Kelly started beforing weighing in on the CHLPA's new video series. 

"I don't know if your listeners have seen them but they seem like something that comes out of the Colombian jungle," he said, "It's as if the CHLPA has kidnapped Georges Laraque and he's being told to recite demands. This whole thing is farcical. It's like an extended Saturday Night Live skit."

I asked Kelly if anything had changed for him since his initial comments saw print and whether his opinion was any different now. 

Photo: Cathal Kelly
"No, I think it's getting worse," he said, "This is all we know of them as you point out, a Facebook page and their Twitter feed and they're doing that and it's full of grammatical errors, spelling errors... I almost applaud them for their audacity. There's a $250 million pot that is the total CHL revenue and they're think that 'if we canust squeeze out 5% of that or 3% of that we'd all be living like kings."

It would be easy to write this all off as some big elaborate practical joke, considering the laughable way the CHLPA has conducted itself so far, but for one thing; the public face of the CHLPA.

"The one person I really don't get in the midst of all this is Laraque," said Kelly, "This is a guy that lost what I imagine is a pretty good TV gig because of a conflict of interest between his employer and the TVA and the fact that they own a QMJHL team so they didn't want him in both positions."

Quebecor, TVA's parent company, also owns the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and so Laraque was asked to choose between the two jobs and he opted to go with the CHLPA. 

"It's [Laraque's] part in this that I find so baffling and I think that if he weren't out there fronting it, this would already be over," said Kelly.

And that's a great point. Laraque is well known for his charitable generosity as he's been the spokesperson for seemingly dozens of worth ventures. While my daughter was hospitalized as an infant, the Stollery in Edmonton displayed posters of Georges cradling a baby, it was a campaign for Shaken Baby Syndrome awareness. His work for Haiti after the island country was devastated a few years ago should be applauded. His website lists several more charities that he has supported over the years with an open invitation to contact him to ask him to get involved in more.

It was once described to me that Laraque's charitable generosity knows no bounds and that, perhaps to a fault, he almost can't say 'No'. One might wonder if that may play some part in why the popular pugilist has joined the mysterious group. 

Kelly made the argument that rather than a union which needs to somehow get 1300 members on board, and which completely changes over a 4-year cycle, perhaps there is a better way. Maybe Laraque could lead an advocacy group that wouldn't need the players to be a part of it but still benefit by having someone of his reputation looking out for them. 

As it is right now, although Laraque's presence involvement is undoubtedly for the right reasons, it's impossible to say the same about the unknown people behind the scenes.

"Is there any one of us that doesn't believe that there is somebody behind this organization, and maybe it's not Georges Laraque, who sees this as maybe a way to make money?"

I reiterated my own frustration with contacting the CHLPA and Kelly pointed out that even spokesperson Derek Clarke seems to have disappeared. 

"This a guy who sort of surfaced and then vanished again," Kelly chuckled, "Like I said, I have to admit to the audacity of this because it could turn out to be one guy in his basement. The audacity of it is somewhat impressive but I still think that if not for Laraque's face, this would already be dead."

"It's not laughable, it's better than that. It's just ridiculous."

Outside of a brief and blunt press release in August, CHL President David Branch hasn't acknowledged the CHLPA, much to their chagrin, and no one expects that to change any time soon. 

"As soon as it becomes more than that initial statement, that's a de facto negotiation as soon as he responds to anything so I think he's playing it pretty smart," said Kelly.

I asked Kelly about his description of the CHLPA being "a charity that no one asked for" and he added to the statement. 

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain"
"You get the sense that there is some Svengali, some Oz behind a curtain somewhere thinking that 'if we can lop off a percentage of the [CHL's] revenue, it can all go to administration, the kids can get a $50 a week bump and a better bus and the rest of us can live fat and happy'," Kelly said.

"If it was simply charitable they would not have framed it the way they have framed it," Kelly continued, "They would have formed some sort of advocacy group, gotten some sort of committee together, maybe put Laraque in charge of it and said 'We're going to go up and down, talk to the players and then go to ownership and tell them how, not by paying them more, but just ways they could make the experience more rewarding for these kids. If they did that they'd get plenty of media attention and it would be hard I think for ownership not to give small bumps in things that don't involve salary."

We ended the conversation by making note that if the CHLPA has succeeded at anything it's in getting people talking about ways the three CHL education packages could be improved. 

"Whatever comes of this, I think some good will come," agreed Kelly, "But at this point I think it's dangerous for the CHL to start making concessions to an imaginary opponent. If I was a public relations adviser to the CHL I'd be telling them to say nothing, do absolutely nothing. These guys [the CHLPA] are making their own best case against themselves so say nothing until this thing is good and dead and then you come out after it's all over and make small concessions that way. I think that would make everybody happy and, as you point out, it would show in some strange way that this worked."

"There is room for improvement, certainly," Kelly finished, "I just think the way it has been done, everybody's antennae goes up thinking 'what sort of scam is this?'"

You can listen to the complete interview HERE.     

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