Back in 2002, the ESPN program SportsCentury decided to do an extensive profile on legendary Blackhawks forward Bobby Hull. The show didn’t just underscore Hull’s incredible feats as a hockey player, but detailed his horrific history “of spousal abuse, womanizing, drinking, ignoring his children, and suggestions of racist views.”
In the program, one of Hull’s former wives, Joanne, gave details of the abuse she suffered from Hull:
"I looked the worst after that Hawaii incident. I took a real beating there. [Bobby] just picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, 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.”
His daughter, Michelle, told viewers, “A lot of bad memories stem from how my dad acted when he was drinking. When he had been drinking, you'd just know that you didn't want to be around here." Michelle became a lawyer defending victims of domestic abuse like her mother.
Roughly 15 years after the airing of that ESPN profile, Hull trotted out onto the ice at Busch Stadium as an ambassador of the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday afternoon. Surrounded by tens of thousands of fans, with millions more watching at home, Hull dropped the ceremonial puck with his son, Brett. It was meant to be a delightful father-son moment, and for many watching at home, I’m guessing it was.
But that’s partially because so few fans seem to be aware of Bobby Hull’s history. They don’t know that just a dozen years ago, Brett had openly discussed how his father ignored him as a kid. They don’t know that Bobby was convicted in 1987 of assaulting a police officer who tried to intervene in an argument with his then-wife Deborah. They don’t know about the history of domestic abuse, or that he told a newspaper in 1998 that “Hitler had some good ideas, he just went a little bit too far."
When asked “if it would be fair to describe him as a racist,” Hull reportedly doubled down: "I don't give a damn. I'm not running for any political office." Hull later claimed that he was set up by the Moscow Times, the paper that initially reported his comments, and filed lawsuits against that paper and the Toronto Sun (it’s unclear how they were resolved). The newspapers stood by their reporting at the time.
When the ESPN program tried to get comment from him for the profile, he declined.
Back in 2010, the National Post asked Hull about his history of abuse. For those wondering if maybe he’s learned his lessons after all those years, here’s his response:
“Same guy. Same guy with the same attitude toward life. You only pass this way one time, and if you don’t have fun, you’ll go to the grave, and you’ll have missed a lot. I think I’ve mellowed a lot, as far as that’s concerned. Where I think that my wife is a better wife now than when we got married, and that was 28 years ago.”
The Blackhawks probably knew about this stuff, though (or completely failed their due diligence in not being aware of it). And despite an extensive history of offensive and abusive behavior that should preclude any man from public celebration, the team has continued using Hull as a franchise ambassador for big events like the Winter Classic.
That the team considers him worthy of that honor is, in a word, embarrassing. Someone with a lengthy history of domestic abuse, someone who reportedly openly defended Adolf Hitler, should not be worthy of that. When the Blackhawks send him out to represent their organization, they’re putting a stamp of approval on him. Even if he’s one of the greatest players in franchise history, his job as ambassador is to represent the best of the organization. If Bobby Hull is the best the Blackhawks can do, they should probably take a step back and do some reflection.
This article has been updated to reflect Bobby Hull’s response to his reported comments from 1998.