Bobby Hull was a great hockey player. Bobby Hull was a Nazi. Bobby Hull beat his wife. Bobby Hull died yesterday. All of those things are true, and they should all be said now that Hull has passed away.
Instead, we get pablum and obfuscation, lies by omission. We pretend that politeness or the feelings of the family require us to sugar-coat the life of the recently deceased. This is not true. This is, in fact, the opposite of true. The time of death is, for the people not related to the person, a time of reflection upon their life, their entire life. For many people, the obituary will be the first time they encounter a comprehensive understanding of a person’s life. That understanding will shape opinions not only about him about others like him. It makes it easier for organizations to keep players lie Hull on the payroll, or to employ them after their time on the field or ice as ambassadors for the team.
The Blackhawks did just that, well after everything above was publicly available, if not especially trumpeted. The Hawks obviously felt they could do this because Bobby Hull was one of the greatest hockey players of all time, arguably the second greatest to ever play for the Hawks (fortunately for the organization, the greatest, Stan Makita, was widely regarded as good a person as he was a player). But also because we don’t talk enough about the fact that just because you can skate like a dancer and hit like an avalanche doesn’t mean you are a good person. Because we don’t, the Hawks told their fans that it was all right to be a terrible person off the ice as long as you played well on the ice, that winning was all that really mattered.
And in 2010, that mindset led them to cover up the sexual abuse of a Black Ace so as not to disrupt the team during a Stanley Cup run.
I am not suggesting you need walk up to Hull’s grieving friends and family and recite a litany of his sins. Cruelty is never a necessity. But kindness does not require that the public discussion of a person at their death cover up the bad that person did.
The truth matters. It matters because it helps ensure you don’t lie to yourself. It matters because not telling it makes it easier to be dishonest and immoral in other ways, big and small. It matters, because the stories we tell about the people who would be heroes define what is good and acceptable, what we value and disdain. Lying about those people just leads to the wrong kinds of heroes, the wrong kinds of values. We owe the living more than that.