Fight the hockey leagues and you might lose your teeth

Here’s a golden business idea. Hire a bunch of young men ages 16-20, work them 65 hours a week making a product that’s in demand, and here’s the key: Pay the workers next to nothing.

Is this the internship program at Boeing? No. (Not yet anyway.) It is, however, the business model for the Everett Silvertips and the rest of the Western Hockey League. Players do get room and board during the season, but as a recent Herald editorial pointed out, most receive a weekly stipend of only $35 to $50, which goes a long way if this is 1965.

Instead of paying players more, the WHL and its governing body, the Canadian Hockey League, are spending a lot on lawyers. They’ve been under fire in Canada for their labor practices, facing class-action lawsuits and demands that players earn minimum wage.

We asked about minimum wage for junior hockey and minor-league baseball players in a non-scientific poll at HeraldNet.com. Voters were split, with 55 percent in favor.

Junior hockey has been investigated for child labor violations in Washington, but the hockey lawyers are on the power play. In the grand tradition of professional sports franchises, they stomped their feet at the state Legislature and threatened to move their teams if they don’t get what they want. And in the grand tradition of politicians, legislators boldly stood up to them and said no.

Kidding! They caved like the Soviets at Lake Placid. This week state senators gave the junior hockey teams an exemption from state labor law, unanimously and without much debate. If the House and governor go along, players will be classified as “amateurs” just like college athletes.

And just like college athletes, junior hockey players are getting an education — about the professionals who run the amateur sports business.

— Doug Parry, Herald Web editor: dparry@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @parryracer

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