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Lockout for laughs: Funny, isn't it, David Stern?

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

If Donald Fehr and Mike Weiner are paying attention, the way to winning their leagues' various lockouts is before them now -- courtesy of David Stern.

Fehr, who runs the NHL Players Association, and Weiner, who is Fehr's successor at the Major League Baseball PA, have just watched, presumably with some relish, the great two-day fooferaw about whether Stern is, as Bryant Gumbel so clumsily described him, a slave overseer.

Forget the media; David Stern himself looks as if he could use a good laugh. (Getty Images)  
Forget the media; David Stern himself looks as if he could use a good laugh. (Getty Images)  
All based, we must add, on Stern's painfully condescending and even insulting press conference performances during the NBA lockout. Even though he really is only playing to an audience of 30 rich and largely mean-spirited white guys, all of whom want to hear every dismissive thing he says about the players and their union, he has pretty lost the rest of the audience -- the audience that, to be fair, has been pretty small and largely uninterested to begin with.

In fairness, we must also say Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher haven't exactly crackled the room with energy, either. Working a crowd is no easy task.

Which is why, if Fehr and Weiner are paying attention at all, they should outsource their press conference when their times come. And, more important, to stand-up comedians.

Not just Improv Night money-savers, either. The home-run hitters. Chris Rock. Lewis Black. Louis C K. Dave Chappelle. Kathleen Madigan. Paul Mooney. Patton Oswalt. Greg Proops. Dana Gould. Alonzo Bodden. And we've omitted about 300 or so. People who can own a room for a half-hour, an hour, even 90 minutes.

And no, we don't want them talking about the issues. The issues are always the same, and they are these:

 Owners, who said they were all making money right at the start of the last CBA, are now all losing it because they really know nothing about the business they are in and have the self-control of heroin addicts.

 Players, who are young and stupid, with the scads of money they are given BY THE OWNERS, need to give back.

 Or the game will be shut down by the mean old men.

Any moron can figure that out, and you take sides based on whether you work in a cubicle, or paid for the cubicle. You root for your side, even though none of them know or care who you are. All of you are wallets for their plucking anyway.

But now that we've been exposed to lockout fatigue twice -- and can only be stimulated by golf and football fans calling guys like David Stern "slave overseers" when what Gumbel actually meant to say was "overly smug, condescending water-carriers" -- we need something else.

Laughs. Serious, professionally delivered laughs by people who can be funny on any topic. People who Do This Stuff For A Living.

Wanda Sykes. Sarah Silverman. Zach Galifianakis. Tracy Morgan. Jim Norton. Aziz Ansari. Chelsea Handler. Bill Burr. Jimmy Carr. And blah-de-blah-de-blah. If your name wasn't here, shut up. These lockouts go forever. We'll call you.

And we don't want them to talk about baseball or basketball, though the odd reference might keep the older writers in the room from nodding off. We want fresh, A-game material, the less I-remember-when-the-Mets-were-good stuff the better. Because this stuff isn't about hearts and minds. It's about keeping people amused so they'll come to your press conference instead of the other guys'.

I mean, if your choice is Bud Selig or Ron White, where are you going? What are you tuning into, Gary Bettman or Franklyn Ajaye? Who is getting your next hour of attention span, Rob Manfred and Bill Daly, or Maria Bamford and Bo Burnham? Please. It's not close.

It's the union giving you the one thing it can provide that the owners cannot. Entertainment.

And that's the secret here. The overly righteous union man fighting for the good of his clients is a noble enough sentiment, but nobody is paying attention anymore. It's a millionaires and billionaires argument between men who mostly treat the audience with contempt at all times except when it's time to renew season tickets, attend a golf tournament fundraiser or contribute to a foundation used-car drive. The issues have run away from the people who are supposed to hear them, so you'd better fight this another way.

And more lopsided still, the owners are largely devoid of a sense of humor anyway. Lockouts are how they have fun. They have their own channels to get their messages out, but their messages are tedious and, as Gumbel pretty much said or tried to say, condescending and dismissive. People get enough of that at their own thrice-daily staff meetings, and don't need more of it at home.

So, stand-up comedians.

Not singers, because Simon Cowell and his vicious little army of contemptible knockoffs have ruined the appreciation of the human voice for the next two generations. Not actors, because every time they dabble in sports, we end up with "The Blind Side," or "Moneyball," or other works of middlebrow cryptofiction.

And not dancers, because they're dancers, for God's sake.

Comedians. Because they're the ones who work closest to the edge of our sensibilities. Because they can make their work last 15 minutes or 75 minutes. Because who wouldn't rather laugh than listen to another pack of lies about BRI?

If Don Fehr and Mike Weiner don't see this, they're too stupid to run a union in the 21st century, and they may as well just negotiate for the right to have the owners put a pile of money in the middle of a floor and let the players fight for it, for all the job protection they'll get.

So this is the way out for all of us. Even if no minds or changed, at least we'll have had a hoot or two along the way. And anyone who doesn't see the value in that kind of solidarity should be brained with a beer stein for his or her own good.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com


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