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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.

And…

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.

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