Brian Burke is not concerned about bullying in the Calgary Flames dressing room.
The team’s president of hockey operations has a no-hazing policy — and always has.
The issue of bullying in pro sports locker-rooms has taken centre stage recently after Miami Dolphins offensive linemen Jonathan Martin left the team amid accusations he had been harassed by teammate Richie Incognito.
During a keynote address at the PrimeTime Sports Management Conference on Tuesday, Burke was asked whether his team has had to implement any changes as a result of the Dolphins’ case.
“We already have a no-hazing policy,” said Burke, who was hired by the Flames in September. “I mean when I was a rookie in the American (Hockey) League, I got shaved, I got initiated and all that stuff. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of guys and I thought it was really stupid at the time. So we’ve never allowed hazing on any of my teams, even when I was an assistant GM back in ‘87 with Pat Quinn (in Vancouver).
“No rookie initiations, no shaving, no physical abuse whatsoever. One of the forms of abuse (elsewhere) is to make the rookies (pay) a huge tab for a rookie dinner, where it costs them 15 to 20 grand. We have a cap of $5,000 on the rookie dinner. No rookie can pay more than $5,000. There’s no physical abuse, no racial abuse, no homophobic abuse. So I’m not worried about having that situation on our team.”
Burke had a brief pro career as a player in the American Hockey League before going to law school. He won a Calder Cup with the Maine Mariners in 1978.
“Now I know as a player, if I felt I was getting bullied, I know what I’d do — I’d end it right there in the dressing room,” Burke said. “Whether I wanted to fight or not, I’d fight the guy. I’m amazed that this has gotten to where it is without the players dealing with this.”
Martin, a second-year pro, left the Dolphins two weeks ago. His lawyer has alleged Martin was harassed daily by teammates, including Incognito, who has been suspended.
Incognito is white and Martin is biracial. Teammates both black and white have said Incognito is not a racist, and they’ve been more supportive of the veteran guard than they have of Martin.
Burke said on occasion he would confront teammates if he thought they were being timid during a game.
“I have gotten right in their face and cursed at them and said, ’You better stop worrying about what this (opponent) is going to do to you and you better start worrying about what I might do to you if you don’t get going here,“’ he said.
“Now is that bullying in the middle of the game when you think a guy is losing courage and you’re trying to buck him up? Is that bullying? To me it’s not.”
Burke added that players often work things out on their own.
“In our (game), I’ve had coaches grab me, I’ve had teammates grab me and I’ve grabbed teammates during games and during practice,” he said. “I’ve fought teammates in practice that I thought were disrespectful to the coach, I fought them in practice.
“I won’t apologize for that. That’s not bullying, that’s a team sorting things out.”
Burke, a former player agent, has had a long career as a hockey executive. The 58-year-old native of Providence, R.I., joined the Canucks as director of hockey operations in 1987 and later served as general manager of the team.
He also worked as a GM in Toronto, Hartford and Anaheim. Burke has also worked at the NHL’s head office and in an executive capacity for USA Hockey.
He was GM of the American men’s team that won silver at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Burke is director of player personnel for the squad that will play at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
— With files from The Associated PressReport Typo/Error