Does the NHL Glorify Violence?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 11, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't play the game that way. And I am not a mean spirited person. And I'm sorry for what happened.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, GUEST HOST AND FNC SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: Sorry or not, hockey star Todd Bertuzzi (search) can hang up his skates for the rest of the season. The league has suspended Bertuzzi for a cheap shot that left his opponent with a broken neck. This sort of bad publicity is the only kind the NHL seems to be getting these days. Here's Heather Nauert with more.

HEATHER NAUERT, FNC CORRESPONDENT: Judge, the NHL's problems are actually bigger than just this latest fight. The future of the NHL may, in fact, be at risk. Financial problems seem to be dragging it down and two thirds of the NHL's teams are actually losing money and attendance is lagging. And the Bertuzzi episode just reinforces the impression that some have that the sport is simply too violent. Joining me now is former New York Islander and four-time Stanley Cup champion Clark Gillies (search). Clark, the big question today is does the NHL glorify violence?

CLARK GILLIES, HOCKEY HALL OF FAME: Well, you know, Heather, I don't think they glorify violence. It's one thing about hockey it is a very rough sport. On occasion, tempers will flair. To say that what happened with Todd Bertuzzi is indicative of what goes on in the National Hockey League I think is exaggerating a little bit. It's a great game. It's played with a lot of emotion, and unfortunately Todd made a mistake the other night. He let his emotions really take over, and he's going to be punished for what he did. The league is going to take care of it. But it's a great game to watch. A lot of people go and enjoy hockey. And I don't think this is going to really hurt the game as much as everybody thinks.

NAPOLITANO: OK, Clark — but television ratings are down and fan attendance at the games is also down. Are the teams fighting or condoning violence to try to keep viewers?

GILLIES: Well, I mean, hockey has been around for as long as the game has been around. As far as I know, that's not going to change. You talk to a lot of hockey fans they do enjoy the rough, tough stuff. Fighting is all part of it. Certainly, hockey can be played without fighting. Everybody remembers the Olympics of a couple of years ago. That was some of the greatest hockey any of us have ever witnessed and there's no hockey allowed in the Olympic, the international game. So hockey can, yes, be played without fighting but I think it's part of the entertainment package. Like it or not, it's going to be around. And we just have to be careful that things that happen the other night with Todd — and it's an unfortunate incident and he's obviously very sorry for what happened — we've just got to make sure that doesn't happen too regularly.

NAUERT: What can the teams do, or what can the players do to try to prevent that or at least curb it?

GILLIES: I think, one, they have to have a lot more respect for each other. Usually when you see these incidents, it's — you know, it's totally out of proportion. The players they get carried away. Todd was retaliating for something that happened a couple of games before. There's a way to retaliate. There's a way to get even. I think you can go out there and you can prove your point without getting to a point that he did the other night. It was something that I'm sure he didn't intend to hurt more the way he did but he intended to accepted a message. Unfortunately, he sent a very severe message.

NAUERT: OK, let's talk more broadly about the NHL. The NHL, as I understand it, could lose upwards of $300 million this year. And there was an analysis that was recently done that just said that the business model of the NHL is just simply not sustainable. How did the NHL get into so much financial trouble in the first place?

GILLIES: I think it started with salaries escalating the way they have and in order to do that, to support the salaries that they were paying to players they had to raise ticket prices to such high levels that the average person really can't afford to go to a hockey game. I think you mentioned something about the attendance. I think really attendance is down because the ticket prices are so high. It's a double-edged sword. The owners can't afford to pay their players unless they charge an exorbitant amount for the tickets. And if you don't have other sources of revenue, such as, you know, the parking, the concessions, and all the other things that go along with it, the luxury boxes, you're going to be in trouble, because as well as the owners have done over the last couple of years, they've consistently lost in the neighborhood of $25 million. And they're not alone. So it's a problem, and the league is going to deal with it with this new collective bargaining agreement.

NAUERT: And just really quickly, is there a chance that the league will not play games next year?

GILLIES: Unfortunately, from the sources I've spoken to around the league, we probably won't see any NHL hockey next year unless there's a miracle negotiation that takes place between now and the beginning of next season. The owners are going to take a very firm line and the players are going to take a very firm stand on this. So we see a big stalemate here.

NAUERT: Thank you so much. Hope not for hockey fans there, thank you — Judge.

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