HARRIED ARE THE FEISTYMarch 6th, 1994
There are ironic parallels between the dilemmas of Alan Eagleson and John Munro.
Eagleson, former head of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, has just been indicted in Boston on 32 counts of fraud, embezzlement, racketeering, kickbacks, etc.
Likely you’ve forgotten that John Munro, a minister for 13 years during Trudeau’s regimes, faced 35 criminal charges in our courts for fraud, kickbacks, corruption, conflict of interests, etc. after long investigations of his dealings with natives while minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.
The RCMP inquiries, preliminary hearings, and the trial covered almost five years, culminating late in 1991 when the judge hearing the charges threw them all out. The Crown had used over a hundred witnesses, 106 days of testimony, and 30,000 documents.
I’m not interfering in a sub judice matter when I forecast that some distant day Eagleson will have what Munro described on the day he was freed of charges as a “costly vindication.”
But that’s far up the pipe. Why put the cases side by side? In part because both men are hard goers, gregarious, aggressive, determined, given to schemes and quid-pro-quos and almost always charging along, slam-bang and in a rush, and rarely worrying about whose noses they put out of joint. Of course, in political terms, Munro is a bleeding-heart liberal, fretting over life’s underdogs and Eagleson is an empiric, market-focussed wheeler who can be charitable and often generous, but rarely worries where the little sparrows fall. Of course, Eagleson at any time used to be more bent to rudeness and horse-play than Munro.
Few Canadians, and very few in sports journalism, remember or ever knew of the connections between Eagleson, then pro hockey’s union leader, and Munro, the federal minister responsible for sport in the period from 1968 to 1972.
Their efforts in concert, more than those of any other parties, brought about the famous 1972 series with the USSR hockey team (Yes, Paul Henderson and all that). Each was determined that Canada should prove it had the best hockey players and could ice the top team in the world. In passing, I’d note that neither then appreciated that they were blowing open hockey to the world and triggering a revolution in the game from training and tactics to competition.
Also note it wasn’t until the ’72 series was over and much profit had been made, mostly through Eagleson’s initiatives on everything from TV sales to the airlift of 3,000 fans to Moscow, that NHL owners and advisors like Clarence Campbell and Sam Pollock realized the money in prospect for purposes like pension funding from games with the Russians. And such fruitfulness led directly to their acceptance of the Canada Cup series.
My opinions may seem uncommonly assured. They come from close work with both Munro and Eagleson through the 1970s, first as a writer of the ’69 federal task force report on sport, as a founding director and then head of Hockey Canada, the quasi-crown corporation which Munro created to seek and attain regular participation by Canada’s best players in international competition, and then as author of the Canada Cup proposal.
A few journalists – e.g., Roy MacGregor of the Ottawa Citizen – are excoriating themselves and the whole Canadian sports media because the Eagleson case is essentially a Canadian story that was broken by a reporter for a small paper in Lowell, Mass., and a long inquiry by the FBI this started brought the 32 charges. Some others – e.g., Al Strachan of the Globe – are foreshadowing revelations or cover-ups regarding those in Canada’s political and legal high places with whom Eagleson consorted.
On MacGregor’s point I would confirm that from 1969 to 1979 as spokesman for Hockey Canada I was unable to get a single sports writer interested in our reports of revenues and spending, much of both tied to Eagleson’s activities. No sports writer nor investigator has since queried me about deals made with my approval by Eagleson with the likes of banks, airlines, hotels, coaches, trainers, etc. or for his firm’s services.
When I appraise the opening up of hockey since Eagleson got the NHLPA going in 1967 I see major change in its economics and in the playing, including by whom and where. And the first in my list of credits for this is Alan Eagleson. And politically speaking, John Munro was a prime, early cause.
It was tragic Munro was popularly taken to be a criminal once the 35 criminal charges were laid. His exoneration never caught up with the shady public view of him. Eagleson? I’ve expressed my hunch simply because the charges don’t square with the man with whom I worked over a decade.
The Toronto Sun
Copyright © 1994, SunMedia Corp
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