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Burke in editorial: Banning fighting would render accountability ‘extinct’

Oct 31, 2013, 3:24 PM EDT

Brian Burke

Calgary Flames executive Brian Burke has penned an editorial for USA Today in support of fighting’s role in the NHL.

We should warn you first, there’s nothing particularly new in the piece. If you’re familiar with the fighting debate, you won’t be surprised by any of the points Burke makes. But true to form, it’s written in an entertaining fashion, so here are a few excerpts anyway…

Reduced to its simplest truth, fighting is one of the mechanisms that regulates the level of violence in our game. Players who break the rules are held accountable by other players. The instigator rule has reduced accountability. Eliminating fighting would render it extinct.


Ninety-eight percent of NHL players voted to keep fighting in the game, yet somehow members of the news media take it upon themselves to try to convince the players that the scribes know what is best for them. They don’t write about the times a heavyweight skates by his opponent’s bench to say, “Settle down, or I’ll settle you down,” and it works. They don’t notice a tough guy warning an opponent at a faceoff. They’ve never heard a star player march into their office, slam the door and demand the team get tougher because he’s getting killed out there by opponents playing without fear. They’ve never seen a chippy game on the edge settle down after a good fight.

And Burke finishes with this…

The NHL has three levels to protect its players. The third level is the Player Safety Department that punishes players who cross the line. They are essential; the last line of player protection. The second is the Officiating Department, the absolute best in the world.

But the first level, on every pond and outdoor rink in North America, is peer accountability. This was the first level of protection when we opened our doors more than 100 years ago. It still is. And that is as it should be. The first line of defense against players crossing the line is players.

USA Today also published a guest editorial, by Drs. Smith, Stuart, and Dodick of the Mayo Clinic, that argued for the elimination of fighting. To Burke’s argument, they wrote this:

Proponents say fighting is important to self-police the sport, but there is no evidence that fights prevent other dangerous or injurious behaviors. The recent emphasis on rule enforcement and player suspensions will prove to be effective deterrents. Fighting is negative role modeling for younger hockey players and directly contradicts efforts that promote safety and mutual respect. Hockey can mend public perception by eliminating all fights regardless of whether they are spontaneous, staged or retaliatory.

Again, we’ve heard it all before. At this point in time, the NHL doesn’t have any “appetite” to change the fighting rules.

Related:The rats will take this game over’

  1. lizardlickk - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:26 PM

    Whole heartily agree 100%

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:27 PM

      Liz, it’s wholeheartedly.

    • mp1131211 - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:30 PM


  2. sunderlanding - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    Sports are for entertainment. Fighting is entertaining. Fighting is a part of hockey. As long as UFC and boxing are still legal there should be fighting in hockey.

  3. nicknyhc - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    Why does anyone care about what a doctor from the Mayo Clinic thinks about hockey and how its played?

    I’m sure when somebody is sick they don’t go ask an NHL ref for medical advice.

    • 19to77 - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      And yet every NHLer who suffers a concussion goes straight to a specialist. Sounds like the hockey experts leave medical expertise to the medical experts. Gee. I wonder why. They’re not commenting on the game as students of hockey, they’re commenting as medical professionals on the health consequences of being repeatedly punched in the face.

      Which isn’t to say I agree with them. We should keep fighting in the game. Like sunderlanding said, sport is for entertainment.

      • ibieiniid - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:16 PM

        god damn you’re making some sense today.

      • ibieiniid - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:17 PM

        …not to say you don’t normally.

      • paperlions - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        It is the dangerous and reckless hits from players with no respect for their colleagues (as well as the fact that hockey is a physical sport played by large men travelling at high rates of speed) that cause concussion. Not fighting.

        Doctors from the Mayo clinic have no idea how to best control the level of physical play to minimize concussion in hockey. None. Just because they can say, “Yep, you’ve got a concussion, try not to get hard in the head anymore.” doesn’t mean they understand how to reduce the likelihood of such hits in the context of NHL hockey.

      • 19to77 - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:00 PM

        I completely agree. There’s very low correlation between fighting and concussions. Almost all of them (barring the occasional Asham-vs-Beagle scenario, which are freak exceptions) are caused by headshots. I really wish more of the doctors who comment on the game would focus on the real problem. This fighting bandwagon is actually a huge distraction from the parts of the game that need fixing. We need harsher punishments for headshots and hits from behind, and for repeat offenders. Banning fighting won’t stop cheap hits!

      • nicknyhc - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:31 PM

        Of course people with concussions (and other medical conditions) go to doctors. I’m not saying they shouldn’t.

        I’m saying its not the Mayo Clinic’s job to decide that NHL players need to stop hitting each other for the sake of being role models for kids.

        These doctors wouldn’t go to a football game and say that linebackers are setting a bad example for kids when they tackle a running back. These doctors wouldn’t go to a boxing match and say that the boxers set a bad example when they punch each other. So why do we as hockey fans allow these doctors to tell us hockey plays are setting a bad example when they play hockey the way its been played for a century?

        Also, who are doctors to decide that hockey players have to be role models? I’m tired of the PC “Celebrities and athletes need to raise my kids for me” attitude that Americans have.

        The NHL supports countless charities and children’s organizations, puts a lot of pressure on players to donate time and money to help kids, and generally NHL players don’t get involved in illegal activities (at least not at the rate of NFL/NBA players). The sport itself teaches discipline, teamwork, and encourages physical fitness and healthy competition. Tell the PC crowd to take a hike and let kids enjoy something.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Nov 1, 2013 at 3:07 AM

        Nick, one obvious difference between linebackers and boxers on the one hand and hockey fighters on the other is that the former must hit to have a chance to win the game or bout, while fighting is already against NHL rules and fighters are sent out of the game for at least 5 minutes. And many a game has been won without a single fight. Brace yourself: in the upcoming Sochi Olympics, you probably won’t see a single fight, but you’ll likely see some great hockey.

  4. ibieiniid - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    “The first line of defense against players crossing the line is players.”

    replace some words and you’ll have yourself a quote from Wayne Lapierre. take that as you will.

    • joey4id - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:57 PM

      Hahahahaha! Funny!

      • ibieiniid - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:00 PM

        what’s funnier is that because I related it to guns, i bet some people change their minds in either direction on fighting in hockey lmao

  5. hockeyflow33 - Oct 31, 2013 at 3:59 PM

    Finally a common sense approach from someone who understands the game. Enough of the non-hockey crowd dictating how a game they don’t watch, have never played and don’t care about should carry itself.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      Sorry to spoil your argument, flow, but I’ve played the game, outdoors, on natural ice, and have watched it since before Bobby Orr suited up for Oshawa. First, Burke clearly has little respect for referees if he says fighters rate higher in policing the game. Fighting has changed so much over the decades. The designated fighters and appointment fights are a modern thing and IMHO are ridiculous. Fighters risk serious injury and based on this season’s lengthy injury reports, don’t prevent much at all. Their only reason for existence is that many people enjoy them. The only question for me is whether the NHL will ban them before a fighter gets killed or wait until after his funeral. You would seem to be among the many who would prefer they wait until after the funeral.

      • ibieiniid - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:28 PM

        ending with a straw man like that really takes away from everything else you said.

      • hockeyflow33 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:32 PM

        Yea, we’ve all played pond hockey. Congrats on living in a cold weather state.

        The threat of a fight is what stops a lot of extra curricular activity. You should remember this from playing on natural ice, outdoors when one kid would take runs at people or lift shots at people’s shins. Someone would have to tell him to knock it off or they would stop him.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:45 PM

        Actually Flow, it was a school league and none of those things happened. We had a referee.
        As for the “straw man”, the NHL waited too long to mandate helmets. The result of that is that Bill Masterton is an annual trophy and not a breathing person.

      • mp1131211 - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:36 PM

        Can’t argue with stupid, nothanksimdriving123. Fortunately thinkers like hockeyflow33 aren’t making decisions for the league. The evidence will eventually drive fights out of hockey. I like a good tilt, but I won’t miss the fights once they are gone. Its only a matter of time

    • joey4id - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:08 PM

      So, the calm cool and collected Yzerman, Rutherford and Bowman are incapable of taking a common sense approach. Is that right?

  6. LampyB - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Who says the nhl needs to mend public perception in the first place? That mayo clinic response sounded like a bunch of liberal retards who spend their time reading books and haven’t experienced real life. I’m sure they’re in support of an utopian society where all are created equal, no one makes more than his neighbor, and we’re free to skip naked hand in hand while smiling and giggling in pure gaiety.

    • ibieiniid - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      say, those are some fun theoretical situations you’ve made up there.

    • hockeyflow33 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:45 PM

      I frequently skip naked down my street whilst giggling. Are you trying to tell me this is frowned upon where you live?

    • mp1131211 - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:39 PM

      In my experience with Drs and medical researchers, I find that the vast vast majority are conservative. This “debate” only exists within the hockey community. Everywhere else, liberal or conservative, this is a no brainer.

    • justinhbhb - Oct 31, 2013 at 10:51 PM

      Liberal retards who read books? Why would you make this political? It’s because liberals actually read books and get educated on what is really happening around the world. Not typical conservatives who think everything is about “toughing it out” and sending parents sons and daughters to war so they can feel better about America’s “superior military” smh

  7. xdj511 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    I appreciate his opinion, however I doubt that in any of the recent incidents that have resulted in injuries and suspensions, did the offending player stop and think… hmm… I can get away with this because this team doesn’t have a guy that will beat my face in afterwards… or that more of these incidents were prevented by players thinking the opposite… that they had better not do it because of the other team’s tough guys. Fighting might be entertaining or change “momentum” but I seriously doubt a lack of it will result in less accountability.

    • hockeyflow33 - Oct 31, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      Play a game with a big meathead on the other team and that thought will indeed be on your mind.

  8. csilojohnson - Oct 31, 2013 at 5:29 PM

    Or… they continue to allow fights after the funeral. Boxers have died in the ring, football players have died on the field, actors have died on set, planes have crashed, cars kill people everyday, people die on the job, in their beds, etc etc. All of those things still exist. And continue to kill…
    Untill NHL PLAYERS start picketing against fighting in game everyone else should can it.
    Have you seen how much authentic team gear costs? They can take a slight beating for our entertainment and money. Seriously though only the players oppinion should matter on this issue.

    • mp1131211 - Oct 31, 2013 at 9:42 PM

      kind of… except the NHL strategically markets to children. Whether fighting is a part of hockey or not affects more than just the players.

  9. pitpenguinsrulez - Oct 31, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    Getting rid of fighting would help to increase the wussifucation of pro-sports in America…which is why fighting needs to stay!

  10. crazemastercraze - Oct 31, 2013 at 7:11 PM

    My problem with this argument is the line “mutual respect”. I really wish people would stop pretending that humans have mutual respect for each other. To me, that is a politically correct chameleon move that people use constantly. The reality is we haven’t really evolved much at that much over the past couple thousand years.

    people are trying to dictate the difference between right and wrong thru religion, politics, the media, etc. and if you can’t figure that out on your own than maybe you can’t handle hockey, video games, comics, music or the movies. Grow up

  11. lostpuppysyndrome - Nov 1, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    Ah well, the “enlightened” non-hockey media will eventually get their way with this too. Like Burkie said, “Ninety-eight percent of NHL players voted to keep fighting in the game, yet somehow members of the news media take it upon themselves to try to convince the players that the scribes know what is best for them.” Just ridiculous.

    On a related note, how about giving guys an extra 2 minutes if they retaliate against a player who dished out a clean hit? What’s with that all of a sudden? A guy plows cleanly through some sucker caught with his head down, and then finds himself having to fight someone because of his teammate’s peewee league mistake. Dirty hits require accountability like fighting, but if you go after a guy simply because he popped your linemate when he wasn’t paying attention, you should get extra minutes.

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