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Bobby Hull’s Golden Hockey Profession Diminished by His Troubling Dark Side


If ever there was an N.H.L. star whose spectacular feats on the ice were diminished by his misdeeds away from it, it was Bobby Hull.

His blond hair and matinee-idol looks combined with the stirring solo rushes up the ice that sometimes led to his fearsome slapshot hitting the back of the online brought him the nickname The Golden Jet. But all that hockey gold was tarnished by the darker side of Hull, who died on Monday on the age of 84.

For each accomplishment, like his five 50-goal seasons in 15 years for the Chicago Blackhawks from 1957 to 1972, and all of the pioneering steps, like his use of a curved stick or his jump to the upstart World Hockey Association in 1972 that eventually enriched his peers, there have been blemishes: credible accusations from two wives of domestic assault; an arrest for assaulting a police officer; and the airing of repugnant views on race, genetics and Hitler.

It would be interesting to see how the N.H.L. and the Blackhawks, the team most related to Hull, handle memorials for him. The N.H.L. All-Star Game will probably be played on Saturday in South Florida. The subsequent Chicago home game is Feb. 7. Often the death of a Hall of Fame star like Hull would merit an emotional tribute at each events, but his conflicting legacy leaves that doubtful.

The N.H.L. has long been criticized for its handling of issues involving sexual assault and racism but has tried to enhance its image in recent times. The Blackhawks particularly have earned enormous criticism, especially for the team’s mishandling of a sexual assault accusation in 2010 involving a video coach that resulted in a lawsuit by a former player last 12 months and the departures of several team executives.

To date, neither the league nor the Blackhawks has mentioned any of the issues with Hull’s popularity in acknowledging his death. In an official statement released on Monday, N.H.L. Commissioner Gary Bettman referred to Hull as certainly one of the league’s “most iconic and distinctive players.” Rocky Wirtz, Blackhawks’ chairman, called Hull certainly one of the team’s “most iconic and distinctive players.”

Just a few years after his N.H.L. profession began with Chicago in 1957, Hull established himself as the primary mainstream superstar in hockey. A muscular farm boy from Point Anne, Ontario, a small cement manufacturing town 120 miles northeast of Toronto, he could bring fans to their feet together with his locomotive-like sorties up the ice and was the closest thing to a household name the six-team N.H.L. had as the tv age took hold within the Sixties.

Each the league and the Blackhawks quickly recognized the publicity value in Hull. He was the topic of various promotions intended to create interest in hockey, especially amongst women at a time the game had a mostly male audience. Considered one of the most famous hockey photographs of the Sixties was certainly one of Hull, stripped to the waist, flaxen hair and muscles glistening in the summertime sun, tossing hay with a pitchfork on the family farm.

At 5-foot-10 and 195 kilos, Hull was not greater than most of his fellow players but he possessed great strength and speed. His slapshot was estimated to hit speeds as high as 119 miles per hour, routinely terrorizing goaltenders of the day since most of them played without the protection of masks.

Greater than a couple of goaltenders turned to the mask within the mid-Sixties when Hull and his Chicago teammate Stan Mikita began using sticks with curved blades. The sticks, called banana blades for his or her severe curls, could make pucks rise or dive unexpectedly. In 1967, the N.H.L. introduced restrictions to limit the severity of stick curves.

Hull also became an inspiration to his peers, as he at all times had a powerful opinion of what his services were price to a league during which players routinely took whatever modest salary the tightfisted owners offered and kept their mouths shut. The insular hockey world was shocked in 1972 when Hull bolted the N.H.L. for a contract price $2.75 million to play in the brand new W.H.A. for the Winnipeg Jets. The move eventually broke the firm grip of N.H.L. owners and gave players extra money for his or her skills and more control over where they plied them.

As each the N.H.L. and the W.H.A. turned to brawling on the ice within the Nineteen Seventies, Hull took a lonely stand, even staging a one-game strike while with the Jets to protest fighting in the sport, that years later rang horrifyingly hole.

Hull could have decried the violence that marred hockey games but his second wife, Joanne McKay, said in a 2002 ESPN documentary that he assaulted her on multiple occasions during their 20-year marriage, which led to divorce in 1980. She said Hull beat her bloody along with her own shoe and held her over the hotel balcony during a visit to Hawaii. “I believed that is the top, I’m going,” she said.

More stories detailing Hull’s dark side emerged through the years, from domestic abuse to troubles with alcohol. In 1986, Hull’s third wife, Deborah, accused him of assault. When a police officer intervened within the incident, Hull was charged with assaulting him and eventually pleaded guilty. He was also charged with battery on his wife however the matter was dropped when Deborah refused to testify.

One other controversy erupted in 1998 when the English-language Moscow Times attributed some disturbing views on race to Hull. The Russian newspaper said Hull felt the Black population in the US was growing too quickly. He was quoted as saying “Hitler had some good ideas. He just went a bit bit too far.”

Hull denied making the comments and said he was going to sue each The Moscow Times and The Toronto Sun, which reprinted portions of the Times article, but nothing got here of the threatened legal motion.

Nevertheless, Hull’s daughter Michelle contradicted him on the newspaper stories. She told ESPN that when she saw the remarks attributed to her father about Black people and Hitler, “The very first thing I believed was, ‘That’s exactly like him.’”

Despite the list of ugly incidents, the Blackhawks named Hull a team ambassador in 2008. He was dropped from the role last 12 months. The team said it planned to “redefine” the role of team ambassador and that Hull and the organization “jointly agreed” he would retire.

But a statue of Hull erected outside the United Center in Chicago in 2011 stays.

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