Well, this is awkward.
In July, the Winnipeg Jets announced that Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Hull would be inducted into the new Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame, along with his “Hot Line” linemates Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. The ceremony was scheduled for Oct. 19 at MTS Centre.
Late Friday afternoon, however, the Jets announced that their guest of honor has decided not to attend his own Hall of Fame ceremony.
“It’s a true honour to be inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame alongside my former linemates, and friends, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson,” Hull said in a statement. “While I will not be in attendance for the celebration, I want to thank the Jets for the special recognition and the wonderful fans of Winnipeg for all of their support throughout the years.”
Predictably, the hockey club is disappointed with his decision.
“We have been informed Mr. Hull will not be attending our inaugural Hall of Fame induction ceremony for personal reasons,” the Jets said in a statement. “The Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame was created to acknowledge the rich history of our team which began with the World Hockey Association and quickly reached international significance through the achievements of the Hotline. Accordingly, we are deeply disappointed that Mr. Hull has declined our invitation to join his teammates, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nillson when we honour their collective accomplishments on October 19th and 20th.”
Now, this is all we have to go on regarding Hull’s decision, but there’s an elephant in the room that the Free Press ignored in its piece: The instantaneous criticism of Hull’s enshrinement after years of domestic violence, violent behavior and even pro-Hitler views have become affixed to his legacy.
That history was infamously chronicled by a 2002 ESPN documentary, which included “an interview with Hull’s former wife, Joanne, who detailed several incidents of Hull beating her, once with a steel-heeled shoe,” according to the Chicago Tribune. It also included Hull’s praise of Adolf Hitler, whom he said “had some good ideas, [but] he just went a little bit too far.” That violent history included his wife Deborah in the 1980s, which resulted in his arrest in 1986 during an incident in which he struck a police officer.
Winnipeg Metro columnist Colin Fast called for the Jets not to induct Hull in their Hall of Fame after the July announcement:
Domestic violence, assaulting a police officer, racism and pro-Hitler views? Geez, this organization rightfully shipped Evander Kane out of town for skipping a few practices and restaurant tabs, yet it’s going to throw a celebration for Bobby Hull?
This honour might make a few old time hockey fans happy, but it’s a crosscheck to the face for the greater community True North has tried so hard to serve over the past 15 years. Hull may have been a great Jet, but the Jets and True North are better than Bobby Hull.
The Jets addressed that criticism in July, via Scott Brown, senior director of communication for True North Sports and Entertainment:
“It’s largely a celebration or a nod to an athlete’s accomplishments on the field rather than speaking to a larger issue or larger societal issue,” he said.
“For the hockey community of Winnipeg, we had to acknowledge the presence of the WHA and the role that they played in the existence of the current Winnipeg Jets. And Mr. Hull’s accomplishments during that period of time on the ice, particularly playing with Ulf Nilssen and Anders Hedberg, just couldn’t be denied.”
“Mr. Hull does come with a bit of a controversial history and we knew that might be a possibility that some people wouldn’t agree with our decision,” Brown said.
“We [have] perfectly been happy to engage individuals that want to have that discussion so that we can explain our decision. Whether or not they would change their mind and see our point of view is another matter altogether, and I don’t know that that would be the case and that would be the goal of any conversation that we have because we respect their viewpoint on such a larger societal issue.”
Again, all we have is that Hull isn’t attending the ceremony. But there’s no denying the controversy that met the announcement, and would have likely met his induction.