As you’ve probably heard at this point, the Winnipeg Jets are going to induct Bobby Hull in into their soon-to-launch Hall of Fame, whether you like it or not. A lot of people don’t like that it’s the case, and it’s hard to blame them. After all, he was far from the best person off the ice, stemming from before he even put on a Winnipeg hockey sweater.
The history is well known, and Colin Fast of Winnipeg Metro did a very good job of outlining it for those who need a refresher. Hull was never tendered charges for domestic violence, but his first wife has publicly detailed their history. His second wife attempted to press charges against him as well. He’s pled guilty to assaulting a police officer who tried to break up an argument between the couple. He’s publicly wondered if the black population in the United States was growing too fast, and he’s openly sympathized with Adolf Hitler.
That’s not something you want to celebrate, at all. Some might say that he was from a different generation, but that ignores the fact that the current one is trying to move on from believing such awful actions are acceptable at a societal level. Some might say that other athletes of the past might have their own less than stellar histories with that considered, but all that means is that those players should also be condemned for it, not honoured further after the actions are known quantities.
Scott Brown of True North Sports and Entertainment says its about the game. “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,” but that begs the question of what the purpose of a Hall of Fame is.
Is it a celebration of on-ice performance, or is it something more? To me, the Hall of Fame is something that should be looked at as what the past and present generations feel is worth showing to the ones of the future. The same applies to the real deal Hockey Hall of Fame; whenever possible, make these the players you can look up to for how they impacted the sport, but how they presented themselves as people. By celebrating people you know to be violent and hateful, you send a message that it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get points for the home team. In adding him, all you’re doing is pleasing older fans who either turn a blind eye to his faults or share his mindsets.
Here’s my other thing too – even if you want to turn that blind eye to the things he said and appeared to have done away from hockey (which you absolutely never should), I still don’t know if I’d induct him.
Yes, the HOT Line was the first larger-than-life assembly of professional athletes that Winnipeggers were ever able to show off to the world. They electrified crowds, scored goals, and won championships.
In Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson’s cases, it’s a slam dunk. It was hard enough for any European player just to get to North America in the 1970s; convincing an NHL team to take them on was an exercise in futility. The two took a chance in crossing the ocean, and the Jets took a leap away from conventional wisdom despite everyone thinking both lesser and skeptical of them. It worked, and it inspired a wave of European talent crossing into the WHA, after, the NHL. Even in letting them go to the Rangers, the Jets and the Swedes were together connected in breaking xenophobic barriers; almost the exact opposite of what we see in Hull.
Bobby’s arrival, on the other hand, was not one of finding a team that would break through social barriers. He didn’t move far away from his homeland, and he wasn’t going somewhere where people questioned where he’d be good enough. Hull left the Chicago Blackhawks for a weaker, secondary league at the age of 33 because he felt like he was an underpaid superstar and deserved to be showered in money. The Jets, wanting to make an impact, said “okie doke” and gave him a $1 million signing bonus to go with a $175,000 per year contract. Hull left and played 411 of his last 438 pro games in the second best league.
Nilsson and Hedberg teach future generations that you should never be afraid to take risks to achieve your dreams and that working hard pays off. Hull’s tenure is one that prioritizes money. If he was a squeaky clean person off of the ice, he’d probably still get in here for scoring a bunch of goals, but despite his star power, I’d definitely consider him the third musketeer that I’d like to teach my kids life lessons with. That his reputation as a human is landfill-esque only makes that decision easier. In Hull, you’re combining the hockey decisions of Alexander Radulov with an even more severe version of the off-ice decisions of Evander Kane.
At the end of the day, I’m not the person making the decision here. But if I’m sitting here, making a Hall of Fame to honour the past actions of players who played for an organization completely unrelated to my own outside of the brand name, to teach kids who don’t even remember the last NHL Jets about the history we are most proud of, I probably use every trick in the book to minimize mentions of Hull. He was a great player in a confusing time, but his origin story isn’t as meaningful as that of his linemates, and once you think beyond the walls of an arena that doesn’t even exist anymore, you’re looking at a person who is lucky to have not been inducted into a prison, let alone a Hall of Fame.
Get back to me when we’re talking about Teemu Selanne. Then I’ll write you three books and a best-selling movie about how awesome he is. But for now, I can’t possibly feel comfortable with the inclusion of Hull in the Hall.