The CHL players are paid $50-120 a week for up to 65 hour weeks while "the league’s teams are 'unjustly enriched' with 'hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues annually' based on the services provided by their young players," the suit says. This is a battle that is 135 years old in Canada.
In 1881, with the formation of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association (MAAA), the battle was enjoined over the role of money in Canadian sport. The new MAAA outlawed the growing trend in hockey, baseball, rugby and football of hiring mercenary "ringers" to help bring championships to a town. The MAAA and soon the Canadian AAA decreed that money "corrupts" sport. Their stern rules denied participation by any "professional" athlete, for life, no appeals.
This policy led to two sports worlds in Canada: the high road and the low road.
The "high road" of the amateur world eliminated money as a factor in athletics.
Any player that had played for money, played against players who had played for money, who had used an alias, who had wagered on himself or even had coached for money was soon disbarred from all amateur sports. The AAA of Canada, after 1900, was spending most of it's revenues on investigations of professionalism by their member athletes. Players were held to very high standards of amateurism, the highest standards in the world.
Meanwhile, the low road was still flourishing. Outside the Montreal-Toronto corridor where the AAA of C dominated, the traditional workingman's culture of matched racing and tavern sports still survived. Here sport was business, like everything else in life. Wagering on the outcome of a matched race between two worthy contestants or a hockey game between rival teams was a popular form of entertainment in rural areas. Rival town teams naturally sought out mercenary hockey and rugby players to help avenge a loss to a rival town's team. Money was an integral part of sport.
These rural athletes saw nothing wrong with making money through their physical prowess. If they played for free the only people who would profit would be the gamblers in the crowd and the promoters. Why not take your piece of the pie? You were creating the spectacle. These professional athletes took all the money they could and often relied on under-handed tactics to get it (using aliases, fixing games, sabotaging their opponents, threatening or bribing their opponents). The AAAs saw their draconian amateur rules as the only response to this corrupt behaviour.
The high road AAAs routinely professionalized athletes by taking their amateur cards away. Walter Knox was one of them. If those athletes still wanted to partake in sports the only game in town was the low road of matched races for high stakes and the pay-for-play rural teams (which evolved into the professional hockey, baseball, football and later, basketball leagues we are so familiar with today). The Amateur associations actually drove people into those professional circles.
So how does this all relate to the class action lawsuit by the junior hockey players today. Well, today's professional sports follow the "middle" road for the most part. Revenues generated are shared somewhat equally by the players and the owner/promoters. It was a long struggle to reach that middle road. For decades the promoters cried poverty to grossly underpay the players they depended on to create the revenue stream. All pro leagues now have negotiated agreements, collective bargaining agreements, to ensure a fair sharing the wealth.
But not the junior hockey players.
Some junior hockey teams truly struggle to stay in the black. But others are hugely profitable. The players are treated like amateurs, like high schoolers playing for the love of the game, not the revenue generators they are and are going to be once they make the NHL.
This classic battle between capital (the owner/promoters) and labour (the players) is no different than any other labour unrest, except it is being staged by under-age workers. You can rail ideologically against the filthy rich NHL players or the corrupt owners just as you can against the mine owners and the miners, or the postal workers and the government. Its still the same familiar confrontation.
It's all about tweaking the "middle road".