We know that the NHL has placed a gag order on its owners during labor negotiations. But the teams themselves are also under orders not to talk to the players while a lockout is in place.
Rich Hammond felt the extent of that order firsthand. This week, Hammond, who wrote for lakingsinsider.com, announced that he was leaving the blog to cover USC football for the Orange County Register. On the surface, it seems like a plausible move: since there’s no hockey to cover, just write about a program that’s come back from a two-year NCAA ban. But that’s not the whole story.
Hammond revealed the underlying reason for his departure in an interview with the Los Angeles Daily News. Back on Sept.17, he interviewed Los Angeles Kings forward Kevin Westgarth about the lockout and posted the interview on the blog. Almost immediately, the league demanded that Hammond take down the interview, citing that because he was employed by the Kings organization, he was technically a league employee and was banned from contact with players.
The Kings defended him by pointing out that although they did hire him to write for the blog, Hammond had complete editorial control and was not being used for team public relations. But Hammond decided to leave the blog so that he wouldn’t encounter the league’s attempted censorship again. The interview with Westgarth is still posted on the blog as of this writing.
A similar incident happened to Chris Botta, who currently writes for the Sports Business Journal. After working for 20 years as Vice President for Media Relations for the New York Islanders, he left the organization in 2008 and started Islanders Point Blank, a blog that was financed by the organization for a year before going independent (Botta has since left the blog). When the team fired their coach, Scott Gordon, in 2010, he wrote an article criticizing Islanders owner Garth Snow. Shortly after the article was published, Botta’s press credentials were revoked. The reason was simple: he had written that critical article about Snow.
Fans have complained that the league is trying to control negotiations. It appears that in the media war with the players, they’ll do anything to control the message as well.