It’s About Family (A Fan’s Reflection on the Life of Blackhawk Owner Bill Wirtz)
I’ve been thinking long and hard since the news of Chicago Blackhawks’ owner Bill Wirtz’s death (may he rest in peace). What is it about this man that caused myself (and no I’m not proud of this) to smile when I first read the news upon waking? What is it that caused coworkers who heard the news to thrust their arms up in the air as they approached me, smiles beaming from ear to ear? Each time I caught myself and reminded myself that a man had died and that those that loved him will spend sickeningly quiet nights with the sensation of an unexplainable foreign object sitting in their chests -only it’s not a foreign object, it’s a gaping hole torn from a fabric woven of love and a lifetime together…I don’t wish that feeling on anyone and yet, I smiled when I read the news…I needed to know why…
I play sports, I follow sports and would be considered much more than a casual fan, but yet, it’s still sports and the world does not revolve on who wins what game, when. I realize that. There are things more important than sports like love, loyalty and family, to name a few. Players and management from around the NHL claim we have lost a giant of a man, a philanthropist, a man who gave to charity and helped amateur hockey. They say Bill Wirtz was a loyal man who loved his family.
Like a goalie facing a Bobby Hull slapshot that found its way through a tangle of bodies only to reappear in a panting breath directly in front of my eyes…it hit me…
All Bill Wirtz’s loyalty, his love for the game, was at the expense of the fan. When he gave money to players who needed it in a pinch, or didn’t give it to players when the team was in a pinch, he was doing it with my money, your money, anyone who’s got an Indian-head sweater in his or her closet’s money.
Bill Wirtz used his money and power to make more money (which is what businesses usually do) but it started out as our money-it belonged to the fans. It was the fans who shelled out hard earned dollars to watch teams that weren’t often worth watching. It was the fans who cheered and hollered and tried with every ounce of lung capacity to rattle the Chicago Stadium to the ground. We invested sweat, tears and cash and had nothing to show for it. We were kept from watching our team on TV, and our pleas for better talent went unheard.
Instead of feeling we were co-investors of sorts of the Blackhawks, we felt we were being taxed for following a team we loved. Nobody enjoys being taxed and people dislike it even more when their taxes aren’t used well. As in the world of government and politics, there was the group “at the top” that was viewed as the or-gan-eye-zay-shun that got all the benefits, that was loyal only amongst themselves, that knew they were safe and had a support structure. We, my friends, were the foundation of that support structure and not once were we appreciated for it.
When Owner Bill Veeck (who eventually went on to own and love the Chicago White Sox) tried to trade Lou Boudreau from the Cleveland Indians in 1947, it was met with an outcry of petitions and protests from the fans. Veeck responded by not trading Boudreau and then is reported to have visited the bars and pubs of Cleveland apologizing to the fans and assuring them he wouldn’t trade Boudreau. The management of the Chicago Blackhawks, led by Bill Wirtz, were the antithesis to this.
The same Bill Veeck later said, “It isn’t the high price of stars that is expensive, it’s the high price of mediocrity.” Bill Wirtz failed to ever realize this. He made his money but at the same time it cost him dearly in mediocrity. It caused fans (myself included) to view him as the money-mongering guy at the top who was loyal to everyone but us. It was hard to believe, and is still now, the mantra that he cared about the Chicago Blackhawks, because the record both on the ice and in the front office was at best, mediocre.
If he were truly loyal to the Blackhawks he would have been loyal to us – the fans – all of us, not just those who buy season tickets (and who are often corporate non-individuals as well). No one likes to be taken, or taxed. No one wants to be thought of as the “sucker that’s born every minute”. Fans want to experience things like love and loyalty and the feeling of being family. The Chicago Blackhawks under Bill Wirtz offered none of the above to us, the fans.
It is indeed a shame that a man who by all measures outside the hockey world was a decent man, whose passing left a hole in the hearts of his loved ones, occupies a place in the minds of most fans that elicits a smile because of his passing. No one deserves to be thought of in that way. Yet fans of the Chicago Blackhawks have been ignored, have not felt the love, have not been part of the family that everyone calls the Blackhawks. We all know that’s not right as well. Chicago Blackhawk fans have hope that they won’t be looked at that way again…
Rest in Peace, Mr. Wirtz and condolences to all those close to him. I know it’s only a sport but I’m looking forward to the day when the Blackhawks are a family again, a family that includes the fans and players and owners, a family that together rejoices in the hoisting of the Stanley Cup.