I didn’t think the definition of “transparency” was all that hard to understand.
My fear is to say that I thought the Chicago Blackhawks story was over, because what was clear is that the owner of the team, Rocky Wirtz, also thought it was over. And no one, especially me, wants to be anywhere near the same category as Rocky Wirtz right now. The Hawks will not be clear of the Kyle Beach story for a very long time. Sadly, no one explained that to Rocky, who basically turned into the “Old Man Yells At Cloud” meme right in front of everyone’s eyes. Twice.
And these are not hard questions to answer. You don’t have to even give definitive answers here. Some allusion to structural changes that are in motion at the moment, new positions that have been created, different avenues, as long as it’s all based in a tone of understanding. It doesn’t even have to be actual understanding, though that would be nice, but just the tone of it, so we can all fool ourselves into thinking the organization actually cares about more than headlines. You’ve seen all this before in dozens of places.
You simply couldn’t get this more wrong. And I guess I shouldn’t be shocked, especially as someone who has followed this organization closely for over a decade now. They were the ones who didn’t hire a PR firm in the immediate aftermath of the report into Beach’s lawsuit, which is what led Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to face the press without reading the report or any idea what to say.
Over this whole saga, the idea that Wirtz didn’t know what happened always seemed plausible to me. Rocky has never been a hands-on owner, and has other businesses in the family name to attend to. He put one person in charge, John McDonough (who has his own issues but that’s for another time), and basically left it to him while Wirtz would gladhand. Given how badly the Hawks, i.e. McDonough, wanted to keep a lid on everything that happened to Beach while they were soaking in the glow of a Stanley Cup run they had nothing to do with, it really wasn’t much of a leap that McD would keep it from his boss too. After all, that was McDonough’s job. Keep things humming, keep the turnstiles spinning, keep the glowing press writing, and leave Writz out of it until it was time for an interview or tell him how much money he was making now.
But after tonight, that all seems a stretch, and that’s being as kind as I can be to the point of almost being insulting. It’s utter insanity, beyond belief, that the head of an organization that found themselves in this morass because someone said, “We’ll take care of it from here,” and then smothered it, would then tell everyone it’s none of our business how they will handle anything like this in the future. “It’s our business” is how you got here in the first place, Rockwell.
When Wayne Gretzky, who has rarely if ever had anything memorable to say from the moment he showed up in Edmonton, is lighting you up on national TV, you have fucked up royally.
Even Wirtz’s attempts at an apology were pathetic, and barely quarter-assed. A prepared statement, and a couple of forwarded emails to the two journalists that Wirtz went off on from Wirtz’s business side boss, Jamie Faulkner. It’s a nothing.
The Hawks have had long-term blowback from the fall. There have been season ticket holders who turned their tickets in for good. There are fans who have sworn off the team forever. There are fans who are just taking a break, and reevaluating what the Hawks will mean to them going forward.
And Rocky burned that straight to the ground, at the rare event that was supposed to give all the fans a clean look at how things will change in every fashion. In a town hall specifically designed to provide a glimpse of a plan and hope about where the Hawks will go from here, Writz drove it straight into the ditch.
The solution for the NHL is clear now. Rocky Wirtz isn’t fit to run a franchise in their league. Plain and simple. Before tonight, Wirtz was the lapsed owner of an organization that covered up a sexual assault by one of their coaches of one of their players. That should have been close to untenable anyway, but Wirtz had the shroud of the disconnect as a hands-off owner.
He doesn’t now. Now he’s the owner who can’t tell you how they’re going to protect anyone in the organization and fuck you for asking. Why would anyone want to play here? This is the guy signing your checks? Why would anyone want to support this? The team has to be taken away from him.
And this is where our habit of simply referring to teams as “franchises” or “business interests” is not accurate, or an admission of defeat. They’re more than that, or they should be. They are public trusts, or that’s the idea. I’ve had my issues with Hawks fans the past few years, even though I’ve been one for all my life. And the dedication of fans is used to paper over a wide scale of crimes and horrors from players and staff alike (yeah I’m looking at you, Patrick Kane) while their wallets are milked for everything.
But it’s also the fans that make the whole thing. It’s what makes it special, what makes the trips out to the United Center memorable, and it’s them who create the feeling of being a part of something that’s the biggest and most important part of fandom. That you’re in there together with others. We may be getting fucked over by ticket prices and parking and arenas our taxes pay for and whatever else. But it’s still us sharing the memories years later at the bar or talking with our family after dinner. That’s where fandom lives. That’s where the teams should live too. Owners should really be nothing more than stewards, guiding the club that we fans define.
While Wirtz was only too happy to soak in the plaudits for “saving” the Hawks after he took over for his departed father, he completely demolished it last night. There’s nothing left. Before, fans were left to reconcile their memories and passion for a team that did those horrible things to Kyle Beach. And then the owner told them they were assholes for still thinking about it. What are we a part of now?
It shouldn’t be Wirtz’s team anymore, so that there may still be hope that it can be ours again.