NHL Lockout: Work Stoppage Makes Gary Bettman Worst Commissioner in US Sports

Ben ChodosCorrespondent IISeptember 27, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Commissioner Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League speaks to the media at Crowne Plaza Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

While Gary Bettman does face stiff competition to be known as the worst commissioner in American sports, this NHL lockout gives him that title.

As a commissioner of the NHL, Bettman’s duties include serving as the CEO of the league and protecting its image. He answers to the Board of Governors, which is made up mostly of team owners. 

He certainly has a difficult job as he tries to balance the interests of owners, which primarily consists of turning a profit, while also attempting to keep the labor force satisfied enough to produce a quality product.

While he is tasked with serving the interest of the owners, he must also show the necessary leadership to avoid catastrophically nasty negotiations that have severely damaged the league in the past. 

This is the second lockout in eight years, and the last time the league went down this road, an entire season was canceled. That was the only instance of labor negotiations consuming an entire season, and it happened under Bettman’s watch.

Fans can only hope that the situation does not grow to be as bad as it was in 2004, but preseason games have already been canceled and the October 11 start date for the regular season is not far away.

The two sides are not near a deal, and there is a significant possibility that a new CBA will not be in place in time to avoid canceling any more games.

For the third time in three tries, Bettman has failed to avoid a situation that hurts the fans. While other league's commissioners have certainly dealt with criticism, none of them are performing as poorly as Bettman.

Roger Goodell has been the subject of scorn lately due to the fiasco surround replacement officials. But when the situation became truly dire after the officials ruined the most recent Monday Night Football game, Goodell and the owners stepped up and ended the referee lockout.

The NFL commission certainly does not deserve praise for letting the situation get this far, but unlike Bettman, he has responded to a situation that clearly gotten out of hand.

As for the NBA, David Stern had to cancel games last season due to the league’s recent lockout. But one of Stern’s greatest successes as commissioner has been marketing the game to a worldwide audience, and as Forbes.com’s Alicia Jessop notes, the game only continues to grow in popularity across the planet. 

Bud Selig was acting commissioner of Major League Baseball when the league went through its extremely damaging strike in 1994-95, but he has not allowed another work stoppage since then.

Commissioners make mistakes and just about everything that goes wrong with their leagues is blamed on them. It is a monumentally difficult job, and becoming a commissioner makes one responsible to some of the most unreasonable people in the world—sports fans.

Despite fans’ illogical passions, other commissioners have proven that mistakes can be made without long-term effects. But the most unforgivable sin is to cancel games. Every time this happens under a commissioner’s watch, it is irreparably damaging to their credibility. 

If a deal is not settled by October 11, it will be the third time during Bettman’s tenure that games will be canceled due to a lockout. While this lockout has not led to regular season games being canceled yet, Bettman is playing with fire. 

His past record of letting games get scratched off the schedule is completely unacceptable, and it is why Bettman is unquestionably the worst commissioner in sports. Unfortunately, he has not reached rock bottom yet, and this current lockout will be yet another black mark on his record.