Bobby Hull’s off-ice life makes for a conflicted hockey legacy

Bobby Hull’s off-ice life makes for a conflicted hockey legacy

Can you watch Woody Allen play Fielding Mellish in that uproarious courtroom scene in the movie, “Bananas,” and laugh the same way you did before? Can you stomach watching a rerun of an episode of the television show, “Cosby?”

Bobby Hull, one of the most legendary, charismatic and historically significant players in NHL history, passed on Monday at age 84 and it is entirely up to you whether to celebrate his hockey career even as it is impossible to honor his life.

There is a preponderance of evidence that this was not an individual worthy of hagiography. He appears to have been a serial domestic abuser as alleged by two of his three former wives, the first of whom, Joanne, described an attack in harrowing detail in a 2002 ESPN documentary. That was 16 years after Hull pled guilty to assaulting a police officer who intervened in a dispute with his second wife, Deborah.

He was quoted in a Moscow paper in 1998 expressing views about Adolf Hitler that might have come out of Ye’s (Kanye West) mouth. In the same interview, he expressed vile thoughts about the black population in the U.S. He claimed he was misquoted and later sued the publication. But those who had spent time around him had reason to doubt his denial.

So, does it matter that he was one of the most electrifying athletes of his time in scoring 610 goals in the NHL and another 303 in the WHA after becoming the biggest star in pro sports to jump from an established league to an upstart, competing one.

If Bobby Orr changed the game of hockey, then Bobby Hull changed the business of hockey when he jumped for a 10-year deal with Winnipeg worth approximately $2.5 million that included a $1M signing bonus in 1972. NHL salaries exploded immediately.

Bobby Hull (7) of Chicago Black Hawks still sporting a black eye from last week's injury, has just scored a goal against DetroitBobby Hull left an indelible image on hockey, even as his off-ice life tarnished those accomplishments.ASSOCIATED PRESS

After Hull, Derek Sanderson jumped and so did Gerry Cheevers and Bernie Parent. Gordie Howe came out of retirement to join his sons, Mark and Marty, for four seasons in Houston. A merger took place in 1979-80. The WHA likely would not have made it to that point without Hull.

Hull was one of the most fan-friendly superstars of any era. When the Hawks were in town in the early ’60s, Hull would spend pregame warm-ups at the old Garden at the boards, signing autographs for fans who had come down to the glass.

He’d come down the left side, would The Golden Jet, his blond hair waving in the wind before unleashing a signature slap shot that represents one of hockey’s all-time weapons. For a time, he would unleash that shot off the “banana blade,” he and teammate Stan Mikita invented at a time when there were no restrictions on the curve of a stick.

The puck soared and dipped off the extreme curve. Goaltenders were helpless to track it, much like Mets batters were when facing Mike Scott’s scuffed-ball in 1986. Except Hull was firing shots at maybe 115 mph. Oh, and on first shifts, he would send shots in the direction of opposing goaltenders’ heads as an intimidating calling card.

Hull was a crusader against violence in hockey — let that sink in for a moment — in staging protests against it both early in his career in Chicago and then toward the end of it in Winnipeg. That is when he had hooked up with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson to form one of the greatest lines in the history of the sport.

Former Chicago Blackhawks player Bobby Hull is introduced to fans during the NHL hockey team's convention in Chicago, July 26, 2019.Hull was accused by two of his ex-wives of abuse.AP

The winger ultimately came back to the NHL following the merger, finishing it out with a few games for Winnipeg and Hartford before retiring early in 1979-80. There was an attempt at a comeback with the Rangers in 1981-82, when he joined Hedberg and Nilsson on Herb Brooks’ first team for training camp in Europe. Five exhibition games later, the comeback had ended.

By the way, that was the second time Hull had played for the Rangers. After the 1958-59 season, the Blueshirts and Bruins toured Europe in a 23-game series. Hull and three other Chicago players augmented the Blueshirts roster.

Does this matter to you? Any of it? The two Hart Trophies; the four NHL 50-goal seasons; the three scoring titles; the seven seasons leading the league in goals?

Has his career been canceled? You have the right to do that. But you also have the right to memorialize his career even if it is very, very uncomfortable to do so.

If you are a parent of a Blackhawks fan, would you want your son or daughter to have a poster of No. 9 on his or her bedroom wall?

When I was 12 years old, I took a header over the stairway in my apartment building and crashed onto the marble landing a full floor below. I sustained a concussion, a few broken vertebrae and smashed my front teeth to bits.

When my horrified mom raced to find me, I looked up at her with the mouth of a hockey player. I was told that the first words I spoke out of my semi-conscious haze were, “Now I look like Bobby Hull.”