Peer-To-Peer Conversations: Donald Fehr on how the NHLPA is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic


Within the midst of the NHL’s suspended season and the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, NHLPA govt director Donald Fehr took time to talk with The Hockey Information’ proprietor and writer W. Graeme Roustan about the way forward for abroad journey, how the NHLPA has remained in touch with gamers and the following steps through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Graeme Roustan: Don, I’d wish to welcome to The Hockey Information and Sports activities Illustrated Peer-to-Peer Dialog. Thanks in your time immediately.
Don Fehr: Thanks.
GR: In the beginning, you’ve gotten a staff on the NHLPA’s workplace. How are they doing? Are they at work, or working at house?
DF: Our places of work in Toronto and most of the people reside in Metropolitan Toronto. The workplace, at this level, is closed apart from obligatory individuals coming in to maintain the servers working and that form of factor. The entire senior individuals that may keep up a correspondence with gamers or work with the NHL or with our licensees or something like which can be working from house. Everyone has digital functionality. We now have both seven or eight or 9 individuals which can be at numerous areas within the States, too. So we’re in touch. All of the gamers and their brokers have digital communications too. So whereas it’s extra cumbersome, and it’s tougher to have conferences and discussions by convention name, or e mail, in actual fact, it could actually get accomplished in and we’re all adapting and simply hoping it doesn’t final too lengthy.
GR: Properly, you touched on the gamers and the communications. The way in which it’s been over the previous a few years, with all of the 31 golf equipment, they’re most frequently, particularly through the season, they’re accomplished throughout teleconference anyway. So the PA has expertise speaking with staff reps prior to now. It’s labored prior to now. Is it nonetheless working immediately?
DF: Oh, certain. It’s it’s nonetheless working. We now have 5 former gamers on workers and they’re in frequent communication – maybe a greater phrase is fixed communication since this disaster began – with the blokes and which means they’re in touch with participant reps. Fairly often with senior gamers which have been round and have a number of curiosity in how the union works, but in addition with the youthful gamers, after which along with chatting with my govt board, which is 62 individuals, the participant reps and the alternates.
Final week, we held staff convention calls. I haven’t added up the numbers, however I’m going to noticed we had between 400-500 gamers who participated on these calls. They’re slightly cumbersome, they’re troublesome. The logistical issues of making an attempt to have conversations with a number of individuals goes up in direct proportion to the variety of individuals on the decision, however you get it accomplished. And I need to say that at any time when I’ve been in a disaster – though this one is completely different than anybody earlier than, in fact – I’m at all times struck by how considerate and the way sober and the way deliberate the gamers are by way of coming to grips with the problems they face and making selections about them. And that’s actually true right here.
GR: I might think about the 64 reps are used to teleconferences, it’s a routine factor for them. However for the gamers and the groups, such as you mentioned, it’s most likely slightly bit tougher as a result of a lot of the gamers on these groups aren’t actually used to speaking on this digital world of enormous convention calls. So I assumed it’s fairly comprehensible that there could be just a few hiccups in these in these calls. Is it the PHA plan to have these staff calls on a frequent foundation month-to-month, weekly? Or is there any construction to that? Or is it simply as an replace infrequently?
DF: At this level, it’s as wanted. As we get nearer to the purpose the place hopefully we are able to resume my guess is these shall be extra frequent. However you must perceive that. If now we have govt board convention calls, to start with, we get continuously numerous gamers who aren’t technically on the chief board, which is joined. After which the previous gamers will attain out to the remainder of the gamers on the groups after which we’ll get a sequence of phone calls or emails or texts. So the communication is admittedly widespread.
GR: That is one thing that actually none of us have seen in our lifetimes. And there’s lots of people which can be going by means of a number of stress proper now. And I can solely think about the gamers and there are such a lot of gamers from so many nations with so many household conditions. The logistics are completely different for everyone. And there are completely different conditions, and there’s a number of stress concerned in that. What’s the PA doing to help gamers or talk with gamers to get them by means of these emotional curler coasters that everyone resides with immediately, however possibly it’s slightly bit extra magnified for gamers since they’re not essentially of their house setting?
DF: You do a variety of issues. To start with, you’re in touch with the NHL to make sure that when nothing’s occurring, and there’s no cause for individuals to remain within the membership’s house metropolis, that in the event that they don’t reside there, they’ll go house. They’ll go wherever they really feel most comfy to handle themselves and their households, particularly their children. They’ve mother and father and grandparents they should look out for that they’ll do this wherever that occurs to be. And typically, there are border points and immigration points and points regarding different issues. We work by means of these on a case-by-case foundation and infrequently, you’ve gotten hiccups and issues. However for essentially the most half, you get it labored out. Athletes, in fact, within the staff sports activities are used to saying, “all proper, we had a recreation immediately, we received one other recreation tomorrow after which a recreation after that” they usually in a short time put yesterday behind them. You kind of have to try this as a result of half the groups need to lose each day. That’s the unlucky half about being an proprietor, Marvin Miller used to say.
And on this scenario, the gamers will not be able to be confronted with, okay, we’ll do that till this date, after which we’ll do one thing else. And we’re going to renew on this different date down the highway. And that is what the format’s going to appear to be. So there’s a number of ready concerned. That mentioned, the blokes perceive it. They perceive what we’re going by means of, they perceive that we are able to’t give them the solutions we don’t have, and that we don’t wish to guess.
GR: Is that this a time the place the staff reps “earn their pay”, though I do know it’s most likely volunteer. However is that this the place a staff rep for the PA actually kind of is ready to assist his gamers by being the useful resource on the staff degree? Is that this one thing that, I do know the PA does lots for all of the gamers, however is that this the time the place the staff reps actually step up and assist out the opposite gamers?
DF: Largely, I believe that’s proper. They really feel, as a normal rule, most of them, they’ve a accountability. They’ve a accountability to tell the gamers on their staff. They’ve a accountability to hearken to them, a accountability to relay their inquiries to us after which get the solutions again or put them immediately in communication with a lawyer on workers or the previous gamers on workers. That’s an additional position that they tackle they usually take it on as a result of it’s the correct factor to do. With any group of our dimension, you’ve gotten those who shall be leaders on completely different sorts of points, and we actually do. That was a case all through my tenure in baseball additionally. But it surely’s additionally the case that my workers actually earns its pay throughout a disaster, too. In that regard, although, I’m undecided we’re all that a lot completely different from most different teams or companies and within the normal society. When issues are going effectively, it’s straightforward. When issues will not be going effectively, that’s once we discover out.
GR: There’s been a report of (two Ottawa Senators gamers which can be) contaminated. And there’s been gamers within the NBA and elsewhere that had been affected. I’m not asking specifics, however normally, when one member of a union when one participant is contaminated with the virus, how does the general group really feel? How do they cope with it? What are they pondering?
DF: I believe there’s two completely different reactions. To start with, nearly everybody assumes that in this type of scenario, in the end, we can have gamers that may distinction the virus. We’re not divorced from the overall society, we’re round our wives and households. You may self-isolate to an amazing extent, however you may’t 100%. Any individual has to ship the meals to your door, for instance. So everyone understands within the summary that it’s very probably in the end there shall be a participant or members of the family which can be going to be constructive.
That mentioned, it’s at all times a shock. When you say Don Fehr was contaminated, or Joe Jones was contaminated, or Graeme was contaminated, we are saying “oh, wow, I wouldn’t have anticipated that from him,” or “what can we do?”. You do the usual stuff you do in each contagious illness, infectious illness scenario. You backtrack for context. And also you go see who may presumably have been contaminated, and you determine the place it got here from, and you determine who’s been uncovered. And the docs and the general public well being officers then do the form of work they need to do. It’s primary stuff that the docs know the right way to do. It’s simply in our explicit scenario.
GR: All over the world, you’ve gotten leagues and different main occasions getting cancelled. However now what’s taking place is that a number of cancellations are coming earlier than the NHL subsequent announcement. All of us hope that this passes rapidly, all of us wish to get again to regular life. And all of us wish to see the best athletes the world produces again on the ice. What’s your present tackle the scenario with reference to returning or not returning?
DF: My dad used to say that after I requested him about his World Battle II service was what was the largest factor you bear in mind? He would say what you do is, everyone tells you to rush up and then you definitely get the road and then you definitely wait. And that’s kind of what we’re doing. We’re getting ready as finest we are able to, for any eventuality that that may come. We hope we’ll have the ability to resume. We hope that with the NHL, we can have the pliability to reap the benefits of a possibility if and when it arises earlier than subsequent September or October. After which to complete the season, in no matter vogue makes essentially the most sense.
However we are able to’t do this now. We’re ready till issues turn out to be extra clear. The place you might be coping with discrete occasions, whether or not it’s the World Championships or the Olympic Video games that happen inside an outlined time interval, particularly when you’ve gotten large journey from around the globe, and so forth. That’s not one thing you’ve been shut down on a dime. While you’re coping with a staff sport inside North America solely, it’s at the least conceivable that we may begin one thing Might 15 or June 10, or another date and play it out. In order that’s what now we have to do wait to see. We now have to find out what’s going to be doable for us to do after which see if it is smart.
GR: You talked about the Olympics. And naturally, the Winter Olympics are two years away. So it’s a great distance away, while everyone proper now could be taking issues hour-by-hour. When you’re watching TV, for those who’re at house, for those who’re self-isolated and also you’ve received the information on each hour, there are developments that you just’re watching. China in 2022 is approach down the highway. However do you suppose that there’s any gamers that is likely to be at the back of their thoughts pondering that they don’t wish to journey to the opposite facet of the world? They’re extra cognizant of dangers of touring than earlier than. Is there any thought concerning the Olympics 2022? And possibly we should always kind of take into consideration whether or not we go or not, or put in numerous protocols to make sure our security?
DF: I believe it goes with out saying that gamers and everyone else can have ideas about how a lot the world has change or in the event that they’re actually sure that this is smart to do that for well being and security causes. My assumption is that once we get by means of this and the statistics will, sooner or later, point out that the dangers have diminished to an extent that it turns into possible once more – however in fact, individuals are gonna give it some thought. That’s human nature throughout the board. By way of what the NHL would possibly do, by way of video games exterior of North America, that should be decided based mostly on what the info are. My assumption is that if, and when – and hopefully quickly – we get again to the purpose the place the borders are opening in and you’ll have worldwide journey, these sorts of considerations that we’re speaking about can have been diminished to an extent that they received’t be critical. If that isn’t the case, individuals are going to weigh and measure these very strongly.
GR: Because the PA, are you going to revisit the journey guidelines? I do know now that when gamers journey, there are specific precautions taken, sure safety and such that’s taken and across the gamers to guard them from the unknown. Are these going to be heightened?
DF: I don’t know. I’d need to see what they have been as a result of we’re not speaking about heightening for functions of bodily safety such as you would usually see. Of ccourse gamers all journey on charters. You’re speaking about heightening safety or a way of ongoing semi-isolation as you journey. And I’m certain that we’ll determine a solution to take regardless of the affordable precautions are.
GR: All the things that you just’re speaking about right here immediately applies to all athletes throughout all sports activities. However out of your place of expertise coping with gamers from a number of sports activities and from completely different nations – Main League Baseball will get a number of gamers from South America and Central America. And so I believe now with you’re sporting these two hats that you just’ve worn, you’ve actually been in a position to work together with skilled athletes actually from around the globe. What occurred with that have? What what’s it that what message would you like all of the skilled athletes on the market to listen to popping out of Don Fehr?
DF: It’s slightly laborious to return to grips with as a result of as I used to be excited about it, as you have been asking the query, there are heaps and much and many issues that you’d wish to say. Type of like saying what would you need your grandchildren to recollect about you or to learn about you and 1,000,000 issues come to thoughts. I perceive you’ve received to boil it right down to an essence. Skilled athletes, significantly within the staff sports activities, and in my expertise, that is true whatever the sport, whatever the tradition – whether or not it’s cricket in India, or , rugby in New Zealand or any of these issues in addition to those was way more widespread in North America, soccer worldwide and so forth – is that They’ve a singular place. I don’t imply distinctive by way of monetary alternatives or publicity or enjoying fame or something like that. I imply distinctive by way of the position that they’ll play in a society.
All through my profession, I’ve been struck by the next: a metropolis is usually a mess. But when a staff will get to the championship recreation, whether or not it’s the World Sequence or the Stanley Cup or the Tremendous Bowl, no matter it’s, at that time, everyone within the locale kind of comes collectively. They usually both have fun collectively or they commiserate collectively, relying on what the result’s. And once we can start to return to regular, I believe it may be a sign that issues are returning to regular and we are able to lead slightly bit in that regard. However We now have to take action conserving in thoughts that what’s actually necessary listed below are the general public well being points, that these are paramount. They’re extra necessary than all the remainder of the issues we’re speaking about put collectively.
One of many issues I’ve been struck with since this occurred right here is how over considerate and deliberate gamers are understanding that we wish to make certain to the best extent we are able to that the well being of everyone within the recreation, everyone that works with the sport, and all of the followers is on the high of our thoughts.
GR: All the things we’ve talked about is about everyone else. I assume the query I’ve for you is how are you doing? How’s your loved ones doing? You understand, sure, you lead many tons of of athletes, you’re a pacesetter on the worldwide stage. However in your personal house, you’re the pinnacle of the family. How are issues at house?
DF: Oh, I wouldn’t counsel at house that I used to be the pinnacle of the family that may provoke a disagreement. We’re okay. We’re okay. We’re unfold out all over the place by way of our rapid household. And everyone’s doing the most effective we are able to and to date everyone’s wholesome. And getting by means of it. And , hopefully, that may stay.

Elements of this Q&A has been edited for readability.
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