A few weeks ago while I was working, I was listening to Marek vs Wyshynski, a popular hockey podcast. The two of them (Jeff Marek of Sportsnet and Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo) were talking about how the NHL would handle a potential domestic violence case. Marek talked about how there was a former star who was a known abuser and whose wife would regularly show up in public with visible bruises. I assumed Marek was referencing Bobby Hull, former Winnipeg Jet and Chicago Blackhawk.
This brings us to the here and now. Winnipeg is nearing a civic election (go out and vote people, advanced polls close this week) and Thomas Steen is running. You know, the former Jet who remained in Winnipeg? The former Jet who is a City Councillor? He is facing both domestic violence charges and a charge of breaching his no contact order. Yes, that Thomas Steen.
Steen was (is) a beloved member of the community. He never left town and his son Alex, who is a current forward of the St. Louis Blues, lists his hometown as Winnipeg. Thomas Steen is a Winnipeger. He has also been accused and charged with domestic violence. He is still running for council. Little has been made of this issue. Which brings me back to Bobbly Hull. It came out yesterday that Bobby Hull is endorsing Thomas Steen's re-election. A serial abuser is supporting someone who has been charged (but as of today, not convicted) of domestic violence. And almost nothing has been made of this.
I recently read a graphic novel called "Two Generals" by Scott Chantler. When discussing it, we delved into the ethical issue of what is public and what is private once someone dies. So what is public and what is private when you are alive. Both Steen and Hull live in the public eye. Steen serves in public office. What is the public entitles to know and what should we know? Is it fair for the public to know what an athlete does behind closed doors? What about a city councillor?
We create heroes and villains in sports. Good guys and bad guys. Those lines get blurred when a "good guy" has done something bad. But how much do we really know about the "good guy" in this scenario? Not much really. We know what they want us to know. We know what we are told. The only way we know more is by having the curtains peeled back and being let into someone's life without censorship. Sometimes that means learning more about someone than we ever wanted to know.
Heroes are for more than children. A parent can be a hero to someone. Heroes are people we admire, people we want to be like. The idea of a hero being an athlete is child-like. It reminds you of when you were little and watched Bobby Hull score goal after goal, wanting to meet him and be just like him. Sports heroes remind us of those simpler times. Sports heroes remind us of when we had no cares.
Who are we to judge someone on something he hasn't been found guilty of yet? Who are we to think that he should not be able to work in public office because of the charges? And why does it matter that Bobby Hull is endorsing him? Bobby Hull is a great Canadian and a great hockey player.
Like I said before, the lines here are blurred. Steen is in public office and his life is a little more public than it was before. Being charged with domestic abuse while in public office makes one pause. This has to be part of the story around Steen. And Bobby Hull? As noted by Marek, everyone knew what a crappy human he was (is). He is a serial abuser. He is not a great Canadian, he is a person who hit women. Hull was also someone who was good at playing hockey and that protected him from the anger of the masses.
Steen and Hull were great Winnipeg Jets. They helped Winnipeg begin to build an identity as a city. But they are flawed humans. Terribly flawed humans maybe. They were great hockey players and have shown themselves to be not great humans. We live messy lives. We all make mistakes and we all do things we regret. But we don't all hit people we love.
Maybe I am looking for something that isn't there. Maybe the relationship between hockey fans and players is too close. Maybe we lionize them too much. Maybe we need to remember that they are human. But we all are human and we all make mistakes and we all do things we regret. But we don't all hit people we love. One day we may look back on this and wonder what we were thinking. One day, we may not even remember why we cared.
We lionize hockey players for what they do on the ice. We lionize them for what they do off the ice. And when they make a misstep in one place, we use the other to place to defend the player. The two are connected. The ice is the players' work place. Being a good person does not protect you for mistakes you make while at work. Being good at your job does not place you above the law. Nothing should. It is part of a democratic society.
The mere fact that Thomas Steen is running for city council bothers me. I know nothing of his last stint on council. I do know about his current legal problems and it has left me with more questions than answers. Where is the line drawn? At what point does the law prevent you from working? Does having a job in public office mean that you are held to a higher standard? When do we stop seeing athletes as heroes and as flawed humans like ourselves? When do we demonize those who deserve to be? Do we ever actually do that?
Heroes. We all have them. Some of them played sports, some of them taught us to play sports. We have memories based around these heroes. When our heroes do something wrong, we rush to defend them. Sometimes we never stop defending. Sometimes, we cling to our childhood memories of someone, not wanting to let go of our previous carefree days.
Bobby Hull works as an ambassador for the Chicago Blackhawks. He is still in the public eye. Thomas Steen is running for re-election. He is still in the public eye. Steen signed autographs for the Jets at their fan party when training camp opened. The Winnipeg Jets still associate with him. He has not been found guilty of anything yet, but he has been formally charged. That should be enough for him to be barred from running for council. That should be more than enough for the Jets to not include him in a community event. It wasn't though.
Walk down Portage Avenue from the University of Winnipeg's Main Campus to the Richardson Building of Science and the Environment. There is a mural around where the old roller rink used to be. On that mural is Bobby Hull. There are other pieces of hockey memorabilia and I believe Jonathan Toews is on there, but Bobby Hull is definitely on the mural. Bobby Hull beat multiple wives. He pulled a gun on at least one of them. And he is celebrated here. He is helping his friend, who has been charged with domestic violence, get re-elected. He is not a hero. It is time we all grew up.