Winnipeg Jets defend choice of Bobby Hull as hall of fame inductee despite 'controversial history'

The Winnipeg Jets are defending its decision to induct Bobby Hull into its new hall of fame after a local critic argued that he should not be honoured because he had been accused of domestic violence in the past.

Local columnist argues that Hull shouldn't be honoured given past accusations of domestic violence

Bobby Hull speaks to reporters prior to a tribute to Gordie Howe in Saskatoon in February 2015. Hull is one of three former Winnipeg Jets players who will be inducted into the team's hall of fame this fall. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

The Winnipeg Jets are defending its decision to induct Bobby Hull into its new hall of fame after a local critic argued that he should not be honoured because he had been accused of domestic violence in the past.

Hull will be inducted into the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame in October, along with teammates Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, the team announced earlier this month.

But the team's choice of Hull as one of its inaugural inductees is being challenged by Winnipeg Metro columnist Colin Fast, who argued this week that Hull should not be celebrated given his off-ice history.

"On the ice, fantastic player. No one can take away those accomplishments. But it's this off-the-ice history of behaviour that really has me questioning is this the kind of guy that we want to honour?" Fast said in an interview Wednesday.

Hull was never convicted on domestic violence charges, but he did plead guilty to assaulting a Chicago police officer who had intervened in an argument between him and his third wife in 1986, said Fast, who also pointed to abuse allegations made by Hull's second wife.

Bobby Hull holds his famous $1-million cheque as his wife Joanne looks on in this June 27, 1972, photo taken after Hull signed with the World Hockey Association. ((Canadian Press))
"It's time to kind of take a stand and say, 'Hey, these aren't the kind of people that we want to celebrate,'" he said.

Hull, Hedberg and Nilsson formed the Hot Line, which led the early-era Jets to World Hockey Association championships in 1976 and 1978.

The trio is being honoured for their contributions to the sport in the team's early years, says Scott Brown, senior director of hockey communications for True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the current Jets franchise.

The primary focus of the Jets Hall of Fame, Brown said, is to highlight the accomplishment of athletes in the sport.

"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."

'He's never really denied that this happened'

Fast said Hull's second wife, Joanne, publicly accused him of beating and threatening her throughout their 20-year marriage, which included Hull's time in Winnipeg.

"He may not have been convicted, but I don't think that he's ever really denied that this happened. Even during his own divorce proceedings in 1980 he basically acknowledged [it], saying that his wife wouldn't have put up with all this abuse if he wasn't her meal ticket," said Fast.

"His own daughter has acknowledged that this abuse took place. Their housekeeper, during their divorce proceedings, also testified to calling police and having them come and intervene when incidents were taking place. So I don't really think that there's too much of a question as to what took place there."

Fast said he is surprised to see True North, which he described as a "fantastic corporate citizen" in Winnipeg, honouring someone like Hull.

"They've been a real stellar citizen, and that they would kind of voluntarily associate themselves with someone with Bobby Hull, who I don't think really exhibits the kind of character that most people would associate with this team and this organization, is a bit surprising to me," he said.

Brown said while he has not heard of any other criticism, he acknowledged that Fast is probably not alone in disagreeing with the team's decision.

"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."

As for those who argue that other well-known former Jets players, like Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk, should be inducted into the hall of fame instead, Brown said they will be honoured in the future.