Bobby Hull is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He played 411 games with the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association, scoring 303 goals and lending that league instant credibility. He led the team to two championships as a member of The Hot Line, with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson.
All three will be inducted into the new Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame this year. But it’s Hull’s honor that has caught the ire of some hockey fans and that of Colin Fast, a columnist for Metro Winnipeg. Because for all of his exploits on the ice, history also remembers Bobby Hull’s documented incidents of domestic violence.
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.”
This history of domestic violence between Hull and Joanne – as well as with his wife Deborah in the 1980s, which resulted in his arrest in 1986 during an incident in which he struck a police officer – led to calls for him to no longer work (language warning) with the Chicago Blackhawks as an ambassador. Now, that history has led to Fast wondering “what the hell” True North Sports was thinking putting Hull in their Hall of Fame.
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 responded to that criticism in an interview with CBC News, defending the induction of Hull to their Hall of Fame. From Scott Brown, senior director of hockey communications 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.”
From Jim Brown to Bobby Hull to Kirby Puckett to any number of athletes that have been investigated or arrested for violence against women today, separating athletic achievement from truly repugnant actions is a challenge.
Should they be retroactively punished for it? Should it remain affixed to their names like “legend” or “Hall of Famer” are? Should it nullify any subsequent honors, as Fast argues in his column regarding the Jets Hall of Fame?
The last option would certainly send the loudest message: That the content of one’s character matters when a franchise decides to honor that player as one of its legendary characters. Because just as you can’t deny Bobby Hull’s accomplishments as an athlete, you can’t deny his failings as a human. The Jets say they don’t ignore them or the criticism they’ve received, which brings us to the crux of the matter: Can they formally acknowledge both during this celebration? Or, rather, are they bold enough to do so?
Meanwhile, we’re left to again wonder: How do you root for bad people in sports?