There's a danger inherent in being the head of an organization, a company, or a country. If you become notable -- if you become synonymous with the front office in charge of your product -- then you become more than in charge. You're part of the identity. If something goes awry in the front office, blame gets tossed at you. Is it always fair? No. Some people will always hate just to hate. Some people will boo because it's a force of habit. It's still a part of the job, however, and I believe that Gary Bettman is more than aware that it comes with the territory of being the commissioner of the NHL.
It's not an easy job, by any means. Hockey fans are amazingly protective of their sport, and many resent someone who never played -- heck, Bettman's a lawyer who came over from the NBA. That doesn't exactly exude to a vast majority of people reasons to trust him. Bettman's made unpopular decisions, especially encouraging expansion in regions that some purists deem unworthy of hockey. The Hockey News' Ken Campbell sticks up for Bettman in this respect, and he's right -- a lot of the expansion was a done deal before he became commish, though Campbell does blow over the fact that Bettman allowed relocation from known hockey markets into Southern ones of questionable sustainability. But where Campbell is wrong is in questioning why Bettman gets blamed for everything, most recently the lock-out.
He's the figurehead of half of the negotiation teams in this thing, and right now he's the figurehead for the side making the harshest demands and making the more demeaning public statements about the other side. He's part of the dynamic duo (Bill Daly being the other half) who have come out with snide comments and arrogant cracks at the expense of the players. Why should irritation not be pointed his way?
No, the entire thing isn't Bettman's fault, and I get that. But for the average fan who is upset about the situation and who just needs an easy and focused target, Bettman's always going to be that guy. He's the guy that Thrashers fans hate more than anyone, and he's someone that Canadians revile for his stubborn dedication to the Phoenix Coyotes, economics be damned. Does he deserve the chorus of boos he gets at every public appearance? Not in the purest form, no. But if you want a scapegoat, there's no one better. He even seems to enjoy the fans' reaction a bit. If he's fine with it, and hockey fans are obviously more than fine with it, then what's the argument? Go on. Blame Bettman. He'd love for you to.