Tampa Bay Sports Day

PHWA Voting Ban Is Worth It

You may remember the Chris Botta story for last year. The former Islander PR head honcho, who is now a reporter for AOL as well as his own blog Islanders Point Blank was banned by the Isles back in October because they did not like what he was writing about the team.

Right after that incident occurred, the New York Rangers Chapter of the PHWA – which Botta and I are members – decided to see about forming a protest and not vote in the NHL postseason awards. At that time is was an informal vote, because no one suspected Botta’s ban would last.

But the NHL didn’t do anything about it and the PHWA “discussed” the situation, yet nothing formal happened.

So last week, Chapter President Larry Brooks put it to a formal vote, where the Rangers chapter decided 7-3 not to participate in the voting.

For the record, I was a member of the three. I voted that way at the time, because I perceived it as an Islander issue and why should the Rangers be punished for something that happened in Uniondale. Certainly the Islander Chapter should take the lead on the matter, but not the Rangers.

Furthermore, since Botta was an executive with the club, this is a personal matter between him and the team. Remember, Botta was the PR Director for 20 years and during that time, he performed the same actions on various writers – including myself –  as the team did to him. Yet now, because the shoe is on the other foot, it’s some sort of national crime.

I also felt any protest would fall on deaf ears, since nothing was done about the Botta situation since October.

So I voted no to the boycott, yet told the group, I would abide by the decision of the majority.

My opinion has changed in the past 36 hours.

After Brooks informed the PHWA and the NHL of the chapter’s boycott, PHWA president Kevin Allen released these statements.

“The idea of a national boycott was discussed briefly, but my sense was that the majority of our members opposed the disruption of the voting process. But no motion was ever made to boycott,” Allen said. “In talking to members, it’s clear to me that they consider the voting process to be highly important.

“Although the Rangers’ chapter doesn’t reflect the sentiment of the other 30 chapters, I’m respectful of its decision. In America, the idea of using one’s vote as a means of protest is as old as the country itself. And the issue here is important. The PHWA doesn’t believe that a NHL team should be able to deny access to one of our members. Chris Botta is one of our members. And he was denied access by the New York Islanders.

“I’m satisfied that the New York Rangers chapter conducted its vote in a democratic, professional manner. I have been informed that it was a 7-3 decision. There will be no effort made to change anyone’s mind. As president, I am willing to say who is eligible to vote, but I’m not going to suggest how someone should vote, or say whether he or she should vote at all.

“I’m confident that the integrity of the voting procedure will not be compromised by the loss of one chapter. Every year, we have some voters who don’t exercise their right to vote for a variety of reasons.  Even without the New York Rangers chapter, there will be 160 eligible voters.  At some points during my 25 years in the organization fewer than 60 voters decided trophy winners. I believe we have more than enough voters to get the job done.”

It seems to me the PHWA is more concerned about voting rights than protecting its members. The first and foremost mission for any writing organization is advocacy of its members. By not looking out for its own, the PHWA exposes its writers to the whims of the various organizations it covers. Teams want positive news, but our readership demands fair and accurate reporting. The association is supposed to protect writers and allow them to do their jobs.

Even if Botta’s situation is unique and may come with unclean hands, the association should have been more concerned about a writer doing his job rather than who should get the Hart Trophy.

And apparently the Rangers chapter’s statement is echoing through the NHL. Yesterday, the Islanders and Devils chapters – both of which voted 5-0 – decided to join the boycott and now we are told the NHL is weighing its options.

So maybe some good will come out of this and maybe this boycott will make the PHWA a stronger organization. If that’s the case, then this protest is worth it and I am glad my fellow writers voted for it.