I am happy to join with you today in what will go down as one of the lamest reinterpretations of a famous speech in the history of the hockey blogosphere.
But almost three years later, the hockey fan still is not safe. Three years later, the life of the hockey fan is still sadly crippled by the manacles of franchise instability and the chains of high ticket prices. Three years later, the hockey fan lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. Three years later, the hockey fan is still languishing in the corners of the sports world and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to cash a check. When the architects of this game wrote the magnificent words of the CBA, they were signing a promissory note to which every hockey fan was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all fans, yes, Canadian as well as American, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of fast-paced action, competitive teams, and Hockey Night in Canada in HD.
Just picture him in one of Don Cherry's suits...
It is obvious today that the NHL has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as its fans in the South are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, the hockey world has given the Southern Hockey Fan a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this game. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of free agent signings and the security of stable and invested ownership. We have also come to remind the hockey world of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of expansion. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of justice. Now is the time to lift our game from the quicksands of injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of the NHL's fans.
It would be fatal for the hockey world to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Southern Hockey Fan's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. 2007-8 is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Southern Hockey Fan needed to blow off steam and will now be content with local ownership in Nashville will have a rude awakening if the league returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in the hockey world until the Southern Hockey Fan is granted his just due. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our sport until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Southern Hockey fanbase must not lead us to a distrust of all Northerners, for many of them, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their prosperity is inextricably bound to our success. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of Southern hockey teams, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long we are the targets of relocation efforts. We can never be satisfied, as long as our cities, heavy with the fatigue of fan-driven efforts to support the home team, cannot gain respect from the TV commentators, columnists and pundits. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Southern Hockey Fan's basic outlook is to go from a competitive team to a bottom-dweller. We cannot be satisfied as long as a hockey fan in Michigan can't cheer because his cable package doesn't include Versus and a hockey fan in Tampa believes he has nothing to cheer for. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Miami, go back to Atlanta, go back to Carolina, go back to Phoenix, go back to Nashville, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the traditions of our great sport.
I have a dream that one day this community will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "The Coolest Game on Earth."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, Calgary Flames fans and the fans of the former Atlanta Flames will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Nevada, a state sweltering with the heat of gambling, sweltering with the heat of explosive growth (just sweltering in the heat, period...), will be transformed into an oasis of NHL expansion.
I have a dream that my three little children will one day live where they will not be judged by the latitude of their home team, but by the fervor of their love for the game.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Atlanta, with the NHL Commissioner having his ears burnt with the words of contraction and relocation; one day right there in Atlanta, hockey fans from the South will be able to join hands with their Northern counterparts as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the point in the standings for OT/SO losses will be eliminated, and the too-soft ice will be frozen hard, and the glory of the Game shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our community into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to struggle together, to go to sports bars together, to stand up for our game together, knowing that we will get proper coverage on SportsCenter one day.
This will be the day when all hockey fans will be able to sing with a new meaning, "The good old hockey game, Is the best game you can name..."
And if the NHL is to be a great league this must become true. So let hockey ring from the snow-covered forests of Minnesota. Let hockey ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let hockey ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let hockey ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let hockey ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let hockey ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let hockey ring from Music City, Tennessee!
Let hockey ring from every hill and molehill of Western Canada. From every mountainside, let hockey ring.
And when this happens, when we allow hockey to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of us, American and Canadian, Hab and Leaf, Avalanche and Red Wing, Devil and Ranger, will be able to join hands and say in the words of the old coach, "It's a great day for hockey..."