Sports hero with clay feet

The Sports Beat

By Brian Publicover

Professional sport is built on a foundation of heroes. People whose contributions to sport exceed the achievements of their peers are often honored for their endeavors.

But what happens when a hero errs, and brings shame upon past glories?

Certainly, it has happened in the past. But why would it happen to hockey? Nothing seems to raise the ire in the Canadian public more than a perceived affront to what many still cling to as a national institution.
So when Alan Eagleson finally admitted fraudulent activities, ending years of suspicion, the nation’s response was predictable.

The public was reviled at the audacity Eagleson displayed in wearing his Order of Canada pin in the courtroom where he confessed to bilking millions from Canada Cup revenues and dipping into NHLPA coffers.

The media demanded his removal from the Hockey Hall of Fame. This was accompanied by the requisite theatrics from disgruntled former players who refused to have their names spoken in the same breath as Eagleson’s, much less immortalized in the same institution.

The Hall was founded in 1943 to honor those who played a role in shaping the game’s development. Its mandate is “to preserve the history of the game of ice hockey”.

Eagleson’s exploits shocked a nation that once hailed him as a hero. Since these revelations have surfaced, the extent of his contributions have become subject to re-evaluation.

The myth of Eagleson as hero will be dismantled, piece by piece, until this sad fiasco, and the man responsible, are rendered little more than a faint memory.

Once the hype has died, sweeping Eagleson’s disgraced legacy under the carpet will be a significantly easier task than actually confronting the damage his crimes have done to the reputation of professional hockey.

Dismissing Eagleson’s legacy as a means of preserving the legitimacy of the game would do both the players and the fans a great disservice. It would be an insult to the game’s past and future.

Recognizing the man for both his triumphs and his crimes shouldn’t be seen as a justification for his actions. It’s a matter of imbuing the game with a sense of history, warts and all.

And if that means leaving Eagleson’s place in the Hockey Hall of Fame intact, then so be it.