NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr appeared on Sportsnet last night in what was billed as his first sit-down interview since the end of the NHL lockout, and he said the relationship between the union and the league is “in the process of being repaired.” Fehr said, “It doesn’t mean, obviously, we’ve agreed with them on everything. It doesn’t mean we won’t have disputes. It doesn’t mean we won’t have disagreements and sharp words from time to time. … But we have a contract, we have a relationship and we need to figure out a way to make it work.” He said the relationship between the two entities will always be “adversarial,” but noted it “doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of shared interests.” Fehr said, “Our obligation is to fight when we really need to, and if we really don’t, to find a way to solve the problem and move ahead.”
REALIGNMENT BEING LOOKED AT: Fehr addressed the current realignment plan that would create two divisions with eight teams and two with seven teams. He said, “We’ve had a series of conversations and we each have some ideas. We’re in the process of talking to the players about it. It’s a series of ongoing conversations.” He noted the union would be able to “schedule conference calls and be reasonably certain we’d get almost everybody we needed” in a normal season. But the compressed schedule “makes it a bit more difficult.” Fehr claimed there is “no hard deadline” for the NHLPA to vote on realignment, but said, “There is a recognition that it has to be resolved one way or another very fast because games have to be scheduled for next year … so I don’t think it will be very much longer.”
HOPEFUL ABOUT BEING IN SOCHI: The NHL has yet to commit to playing in the Sochi Games next February, and Fehr reiterated the players “would prefer to go.” The league and the union have met with the IIHF and the IOC, and he is “hopeful that things will be put together.” Fehr noted it “would be unfortunate” if the NHL did not participate, but said it is “within the range of all possible things in this world.” Fehr: “The parties on both sides are endeavoring to try to solve the issues which arise, many of which are logistical and others of which have to do with the interruption of an ongoing business.”
STICKING AROUND: Fehr said he has not talked to anyone about joining the NBPA and replacing Billy Hunter as Exec Dir. He said, “I have a job. I’m happy with the job. As I said, I’m excited about the industry, and I really, really like the players.” He added, “I’m hopeful in the NBA situation they’ll find a way to work through their issues and come to a conclusion that makes the players satisfied” (SPORTSNET.ca, 3/6).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during a speech at the Univ. of North Carolina yesterday said that the “biggest challenge facing the league is how to keep the game of football exciting while continuing to make it more safe,” according to Nicole Comparato of UNC student newspaper the DAILY TAR HEEL. Goodell said, “The game is thriving. But for any organization to grow, to thrive and to remain relevant, it must evolve and prove and face up to its challenges.” He added that the league “needs to further its leadership role in the discussion about player safety in order to set an example for high school teams and younger players.” Comparato notes Goodell has been a “topic of discussion this week" after an ESPN The Magazine article said Goodell told a Pro Football HOF player "his greatest fear was a player dying on the field." When asked by an audience member, Goodell said "he never said that.” Goodell: “I’m concerned about all injuries. Every Sunday night when I get done with our traveling or whether I’m watching games at home, by the time I get to bed I’ve already seen every injury that occurs in the NFL.” He said that the league “knows it can’t change the negative aspects of the game alone, and that it will take a collaborative effort to continue to evolve not only safety in football, but all sports” (DAILY TAR HEEL, 3/7). In Raleigh, R. Cory Smith notes Goodell addressed players "not coming forth with their injuries -- concussions or otherwise -- which the sport struggles with at every level.” Goodell: “The single biggest impact in the short term ... is changing the culture of our sport. There’s very much a warrior mentality. We have to make sure that it’s OK to raise your hand when you sustain these injuries so that you get the proper treatment” (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 3/7).
MESSAGE RECEIVED, IF NOT SAID: The NFL also formally came out and claimed that Goodell did not say he is "terrified" of a player dying on the field in Don Van Natta Jr.'s ESPN The Magazine story. However, ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "It does terrify Roger Goodell, whether he’s ever said it or not.” Wilbon: “Goodell has to be afraid of this. It’s one of the reasons why safety has gone up in terms of prioritizing in the NFL.” ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "I understand why you don’t want to admit to the word ‘terrified,’ because that allows for the prospect” ("PTI," ESPN, 3/6). ESPN's Bomani Jones said if Goodell is fearful about an on-field death, NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello “was not going to come out and say, ‘Man, we’re all scared somebody’s going to die out here.’ That is bad for the product and it makes people nervous." Jones: "I can believe Roger Goodell says that when nobody’s around.” L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said, "I’m actually thrilled if Roger Goodell is up nights thinking about this. ... He's showing us that he is scared to death of this, and that’s a good thing. He ought to be scared” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 3/6). CBSSPORTS.com’s Will Brinson wrote whether or not Goodell “actually does sit around and worry about a player dying is irrelevant.” He is “not going to put that quote out there for everyone to take out of context and make the NFL look bad,” and it is “hard to blame him for that” (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/6).
Rory McIlroy yesterday held his first news conference since withdrawing from the PGA Tour Honda Classic last week and "admitted he made a mistake, but he also said he was suffering both mentally and dentally when he walked off" the course, according to Steve Waters of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. McIlroy originally cited a sore wisdom tooth for withdrawing but yesterday said, "I realized pretty quickly that it wasn't the right thing to do. No matter how bad I was playing, I should have stayed out there." He added, "I've learned that when the going gets tough, I've got to stick in there a bit more and I've got to grind it out. There's no excuse for quitting." McIlroy: "I wasn't in a good place with my golf game. My head was all over the place." He continued, "I actually think in the long run, (last) Friday will be a blessing in disguise. It was like it just sort of released a valve and all that sort of pressure that I've been putting on myself just went away. I was like, just go out and have fun. It's not life or death out there. It's only a game. I had sort of forgotten that this year" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/7). The AP's Doug Ferguson noted McIlroy yesterday "offered another apology, a straightforward explanation and a pledge ... that he will never again quit in [the] middle of a round." But he dismissed the idea that his new equipment deal with Nike "added to the pressure." He said, "It doesn't make a difference what deal or what clubs I play. That's irrelevant" (AP, 3/6).
TAKING NOTE: In Augusta, Scott Michaux writes if any other "athletes, politicians, CEOs or regular Joes were watching, take notes." McIlroy's apology "rang genuine and unrehearsed." His "public relations nightmare ... was put to rest with the easiest of all solutions -- sincerity" (AUGUSTA CHRONICLE, 3/7). In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes having "witnessed and analyzed the way McIlroy had handled himself in the face of adversity up to that point in his career, I believe this was a blip on the radar for him, an aberration." Last week was McIlroy's "immature moment ... and it's something we won't see happen again" (N.Y. POST, 3/7). In Miami, Greg Cote writes too much "has been made of McIlroy’s abrupt withdrawal." He "didn’t get busted for DUI, test positive for steroids, cheat on his scorecard, throw his clubs into a lake or bludgeon a spectator with a 4-iron." McIlroy let his "frustration reach a hard boil and made a bad, knee-jerk decision, that’s all" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/7). But in West Palm Beach, Greg Stoda writes it is time for McIlroy "to prove himself." The "cacophony of speculation about what might be wrong with him and/or his game and/or his new equipment will increase if he doesn’t play well coming off his walk-away" (PALM BEACH POST, 3/7).
The NHL again is dealing with the issue of whether visors should be mandatory after Rangers D Marc Staal was hit in the eye with a puck Tuesday, but ESPN N.Y.'s Katie Strang cited sources as saying that although the issue "was raised during the labor talks" this offseason, the union "held firm to protect the 'player's choice' in the matter" (ESPNNY.com, 3/6). In Vancouver, Cam Cole writes, "You can rip the NHLPA, if you like, for its cavalier attitude toward the health of its own members but the PA is only the players' mouthpiece." This is "rank-and-file's position" (VANCOUVER SUN, 3/7). TSN's Bob McKenzie noted the NHLPA claims it is “educating” players on the merits of wearing a visor. But the only way the union's position changes is if an “insurance carrier says they’re not going to insure contracts for eye injuries for players that don’t wear visors” (“NHL Live,” NBC Sports Network, 3/6).
JUST SAY NO: SPORTING NEWS' Anthony Witrado wrote MLB is finally "thinking proactively" regarding drug testing. While MLB has "the best drug-testing program of all professional sports," the league and MLBPA are "not ignoring the cries coming from fans or out of clubhouses." MLB also "isn’t ignoring the fact that some of its most recognizable players continue to test positive for PEDs." Witrado: "Whatever MLB and the MLBPA decide to do to stiffen penalties, that they are willing to sit down and amend the current collective bargaining agreement and drug program is a major step forward, maybe even bigger than HGH testing" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 3/4).
A TRADITION UNLIKE...: BLOOMBERG NEWS' Erik Matuszewski reports LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan continues to hope Augusta National "may one day open its gates to an event for the sport’s top women’s tour" after the club added female members last year. Whan said that he "contacts the club ... every year about hosting a women’s tournament in addition to the Masters." He added that he is "not discouraged about being rebuffed" (BLOOMBERG NEWS, 3/7).