Bobby Hull chose not to attend his induction into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame this week, in which he and his “Hot Line” linemates Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson were its first honored members. He made this decision because he knew – like we knew, like the Winnipeg Jets knew – that there’s no longer any separating the personal from the professional with Bobby Hull.
He’s a 77-year-old Hockey Hall of Famer with 913 combined goals in the NHL and WHA, and was hugely influential in the establishment of that latter league and the Jets franchise. He’s a wife-beating, Hitler-praising ghoul who openly called for “genetic breeding” to make a better human race and complained that the black population of the world was “growing too fast.” He was 59 years old at the time of those comments.
There comes a point in every former celebrity’s life, when the layers of the onion are peeled and the pungent stink can’t be ignored, when their supporters will either worship or kill their idols. And so, regrettably but also predictably, the media apologists were in full force after Hull no-showed his own Hall of Fame ceremony.
Most opted for the “aren’t we all flawed?” tact, which is a tidy way of equating Nazi sympathy and hitting your wife in the head with a steel-heeled shoe in a drunken rage with, like, shoplifting a pair of socks one time like I did.
My point is only, we are all deeply flawed. Hull is, too. That surely comes as no surprise. The Jets honoured a man whose accomplishments on the ice — and off it, too, for by many accounts he was a good ambassador of the game — are balanced by the mistakes and failures in his personal life. I can hardly think of anyone that description doesn’t fit, more or less.
No one was turning a blind eye to the allegations made against him in the past; no one was dissing the problem of domestic abuse. His induction was an acknowledgement of his greatness as an athlete, nothing more.
The real shock, to anyone who’s been there and wonders what else there might be to do in the bitter long winter, is that Hull managed to put Winnipeg on the hockey map.
Yes, that of course is the real shock.
From Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, in a piece called “Judge Bobby Hull as player, not person,” which of course is the same standard we all remember the Sun using for Evander Kane. Here’s how it begins:
A celebration of the Hot Line without Bobby Hull?
Former Jet Morris Lukowich was floored when he heard the Golden Jet won’t be taking part in the first Hall of Fame inductions for his old team this week. “That is really, really disappointing,” Lukowich said from his home in Calgary. “There will definitely be a spot missing. I’m a little bit shocked by the whole thing. Gall-darn it.”
Luckily, it gets a bit better at the end, via former Jet Jim Kyte:
“If it’s a sport hall of fame, you should be judged on the merits of how you performed as a player. But you can’t divorce the off-ice or off-the-field activity, completely. You want somebody who’s not only a great athlete or sportsman, but a good human being. When it comes to spousal abuse and legal problems, you have to look at that. You can’t ignore it. If you’re talking about a Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, Bobby must be in it. You can’t have a Hall of Fame without Bobby.”
A summer announcement that the Jets would celebrate their WHA heritage and make the Hot Line the inaugural Hall of Fame honourees stirred up sentiment on a number of sides within Winnipeg. Hull, who has been the subject of domestic abuse allegations, became the focal point of opinion columns, sports radio discussions and dinner table arguments.
Hull was reviled by one side and respected by the other. He took offence that reports of past transgressions, never proven in court, would sully his name in Winnipeg of all places.
“Never proven in court.”
I mean, forget what his ex-wife has said, what his children have said. One of the most famous athletes in the world never had to answer these charges in court at a time when that cache made those like him Teflon and the media protected him at every turn.
Hull is in the Hockey Hall of Fame and now the Jets Hall of Fame. Is he a flawed man? Certainly. Show us one that isn’t.
We can, in fact, show you a number of Hockey Hall of Famers that neither beat their wives nor praised Adolf Hitler.
And while he represents a different era with more tolerance of certain behaviours …
The hell? The domestic abuse happened during the 1970s! He threatened his ex-wife with a loaded shotgun in 1978! That was tolerated?!
… he has become a case study for a time where mistakes are magnified under the glass of both social and mass media. There are no secrets in today’s world. Drink too much, get in an argument or find oneself on the wrong side of the law and it is immediate news. Widespread. Feet of clay crumble as soon as a hairline crack is spotted.
Yes, and this is important: While the “hairline crack” line appears to reference the pile-on culture in today’s media – equating Hull’s transgressions with, like, a misogynist tweet – the key facet of this section is “a time where mistakes are magnified.”
No, actually, it’s a time when “mistakes” like spousal abuse are no longer hidden away from the paying public by a protectionist media more concerned with idol worship than presenting these athletes as warts-and-all. Hull’s off-ice behavior has been called the “worst-kept secret” in hockey for decades, but that doesn’t change the fact that those who knew about it were content to feed the illusion as long as they could.
Hull was ushered into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 without a fuss.
The timing of his induction into the Jets Hall of Fame, however, put a 2016 lens on his 1970s lifestyle. A damning documentary produced by ESPN in 2002 included footage of his ex-wife Joanne alleging she “took a real beating” from Hull during their time together. She said her former husband “threw me in the room, and just proceeded to knock the heck out of me. He took my shoe – with a steel heel – and proceeded to hit me in the head. I was covered with blood. And I can remember him holding me over the balcony, and I thought this is the end, I’m going.”
But again, never proven in court, this mistake!
The end of Lawless’s piece:
In a career of sports writing, it’s become clear pro athletes are simply people that are good at throwing a ball or shooting a puck and nothing more than that. Some are fine people and some are not. Same as the reporters working in North America’s press boxes. There are good and bad to varying degrees. There are no absolutes when it comes to human beings.
If a member of the professional hockey media had an ex-spouse tell ESPN about the times she was beaten by him in drunken rages and that member of the hockey media once gave an interview praising Adolf Hitler, how long do you think this individual would still be in North American press boxes?
Just asking, as long as we’re playing the false equivocation game.
And there is no absolute on this subject. Have Hull in your Hall of Hame or don’t. It’s up to you. Not long ago, I publicly stated separating the man from the player was impossible.
Time and conversation has modified that view. It’s become clear that evenly applying a moral standard across athletes and over decades and eras isn’t realistic.
That doesn’t mean I like it. It just means it is. Athletes are flawed. And so will be their Halls of Fame.
He’s right here, of course. The Jets can have anyone they want in their Hall of Fame, even if their public defense of his induction probably wasn’t warranted.
And he’s right that moral standards change over decades. Which is why Bobby Hull not being in attendance at his own Hall of Fame induction is something that shouldn’t be lamented or regretted, but celebrated.
We’ve moved forward as a culture to not accept domestic violence. We’ve moved forward as a culture to demonize racists. We’ve gotten to a place where athletes no longer have favored nation status, avoiding the repercussions for their actions either in the marketplace or the courtroom.
This “he who is without sin shall cast the first stone” stuff is great until you realize that Bobby Hull is under an avalanche of his own creation. This “separate the player from the person” stuff is great until you realize that Hull himself can no longer apparently do it, judging from his decision to no-show the Hall of Fame ceremony to avoid that scrutiny.
And again, we’re all left to ask: How do we root for bad people in sports?
MORE FROM YAHOO SPORTS