Gordie Howe used to laugh about all the legendary stories, some true and some imagined about him as a hockey player including the Gordie Howe hat trick, a goal, an assist, and a fight that only happened once.
Gordie would say of the stories, they must have thought I was Paul Bunyan. However, there are two stories that are true. The first one is how Gordie Howe was used by Detroit Red Wings ownership in the 1950’s, and the other is about how Gordie Howe changed the system of entry for teenage players into professional hockey in 1973.
In 1957, when Detroit teammate and line-mate Ted Lindsay attempted to organize the first National Hockey League Players Association, Howe did not support Lindsay and the planned association. Lindsay would eventually be traded for his association activities by Jack Adams, who has a trophy named after him by the NHL, and that ended the friendship between Howe and Lindsay.
The players did eventually organize and Gordie did change some structure of the business after he had retired in 1971. Gordie Howe wanted to play again and the World Hockey Association came along in 1972. It had been Gordie’s dream to play with two of his sons Mark and Marty, but that seemed impossible in the NHL. Howe’s old friend Bill Dineen called him and wanted to know if he was interested in playing in Houston. To sweeten the deal, Houston would draft Marty and an underage Mark Howe and the three could play together. The WHA was an outlaw league and could do whatever that league’s owners wanted. The three Howes signed for the 1973 season.
The WHA did change the eligibility rule and drafted only 20 year olds. Ken Linseman challenged the rule in court in 1977, and a settlement allowing 18 year olds were adopted by both leagues. Gordie Howe had a hand in changing the business of hockey even if he wasn’t Paul Bunyan.
By Evan Weiner for The Politics of Sports Business.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, Evan Weiner.