By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — The Blackhawks’ moral standards are now on paper, and they are public knowledge.
In a letter to the Vice President/General Manager of Comcast Sports Net Chicago, team chairman Rocky Wirtz demanded that reporter Susannah Collins be removed immediately, citing his awareness of comedy videos made years earlier that he found “incredibly offensive to a number of audiences, going well beyond professional athletes.”
He only learned of them after her innocent, unfortunate slip of the tongue last week brought them back to the fore, but it didn’t matter to Wirtz. Although they had been a fully disclosed non-issue upon her hiring, they became instant, retroactive reason for a swift dismissal.
It is within the ‘Hawks’ rights as co-owner of the network to make such a move. They are allowed to be concerned about any connection to their brand that they believe has cast them in any kind of negative light, and they may act accordingly – even if such a move appears abrupt, oversensitive, and heavy-handed, not to mention out of touch.
Some of us may include something else in the category of “incredibly offensive,” however, and that’s violence against women.
As long as we’re digging into personal backgrounds to find ways to protect the pristine image of a franchise, let’s turn a similar spotlight on that of Bobby Hull, the Hall-of-Fame winger who serves currently as an official Blackhawks Ambassador.
Hull’s second wife, Joanne, whom he wed in 1960 and divorced in 1980, told an ESPN documentary in 2002 that she “took a real beating” at his hands. She described an incident during which Hull “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.”
She filed to end the marriage in 1970 after several more incidents, but they reconciled until Hull threatened her with a loaded shotgun in 1978. Their daughter, Michelle, also described his pattern of behavior to “Sports Century,” and she now works as an attorney specializing in domestic violence.
He remarried in 1984, but the incidents of physical abuse continued for new wife Deborah. Hull was arrested in the parking lot of their Willowbrook condominium in 1986 during a violent domestic altercation, and was eventually convicted for taking a swing at an intervening police officer. Willowbrook Police Chief Steven List said “there was evidence he had struck his wife in the face. She had some contusions, some swelling.”
Good thing for Hull there are no YouTube videos of him doing risqué sketch-satire about sports, huh? He might then be running afoul of Rocky Wirtz’s welcoming embrace.
In 1998, Hull spoke out on behalf of the Nazis and against the speed of growth of the black population in the US, telling the English-language Moscow Times that “Hitler, for example, had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far.”
Asked if this stance might be described as racist, he replied “I don’t give a damn. I’m not running for any political office.”
He denied making the comments, later blustering about lawsuits that were never adjudicated.
Simply, there cannot be two sets of rules for being a part of the Blackhawks organization. If the silly, debatably-funny bits Collins did were worthy of severing her association with the team despite their existence being known and initially accepted by her employer, then Hull’s ugly history of beating women clearly rises to that level.
Bobby Hull must be deemed similarly unworthy of his role as an official representative of the Chicago Blackhawks.
And not quietly, either. Not in the way that some businesses would, where you just wouldn’t see him for a while, not registering that you haven’t, while his personal information is deleted from the website.
This is a press release, simply announcing that anything done in one’s past is now fair and proper cause to be relieved of one’s Blackhawks duties, and Bobby Hull’s actions are enough that his continued presence can reflect negatively on the franchise. To not condemn, in this case, is to condone.
This is not my standard, created on an emotional whim.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.