David vs. Goliath Why an Unemployed Lawyer Keeps Trying to Put Hockey Magnate Bill Wirtz in the Penalty Box

By Reese, Joel | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), February 15, 2001 | Go to article overview
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David vs. Goliath Why an Unemployed Lawyer Keeps Trying to Put Hockey Magnate Bill Wirtz in the Penalty Box


Reese, Joel, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Joel Reese Daily Herald Staff Writer

In his darkest moments, Mark Weinberg realizes he will never win the battle that has consumed him for the past 10 years.

The bespectacled, 38-year-old Weinberg has spent a decade waging a one-man war against the monolithic Bill Wirtz, one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in the Midwest.

And he realizes it's a losing battle, that his work has about the same effect on Wirtz as a butterfly has on a tornado.

"I'm not going to bring this guy down," he says. "I'm not stupid. I know Bill Wirtz is going to continue to sleep very well at night."

For some perspective, Weinberg drives a 1991 Honda Accord with 97,000 miles and lives in a modest two-flat on Chicago's Northwest Side; meanwhile, Wirtz owns the Chicago Blackhawks, the United Center, countless valuable real estate holdings and several liquor distributors.

Weinberg's crusade dates back to Valentine's Day, 1991, when he began hawking a satirical hockey publication, The Blue Line, outside the Chicago Stadium before hockey games. He applied for media credentials from the team, but the team denied his application.

Thus began Weinberg's struggle, which culminated in a recently released, self-published, none-too-complimentary book about Wirtz, titled "Career Misconduct" (Blueline Publishing, $15.95).

In the 151-page book (available outside the United Center before Blackhawks games or at www.careermisconduct.com), Weinberg details several of Wirtz's business dealings, and describes them with terms like "corruption," "monumental greed" and "skullduggery."

Weinberg (who also sued the United Center in 1995 on behalf of 17 independent peanut vendors who were put out of work when the arena banned patrons from bringing in peanuts from outside) realizes his efforts are like trying to dismantle the Great Wall of China with a toothpick. He is David taking on a tag-team of Goliath, Hercules and William "The Refrigerator" Perry.

So that raises the question: Why fight this battle? Why not just shake your fist, bellow "Curse you, Bill Wirtz!" to the heavens, and move on?

"Because someone's got to do it," Weinberg says with a shrug.

Cheering for The Man

Weinberg grew up a rabid hockey fan in Highland Park, cheering for Bobby "The Golden Jet" Hull, Stan "The Man" Mikita and other players from hockey's pre-face mask era.

Even now, Weinberg will go from quoting poet Rainer Maria Rilke and acerbic writer H.L. Mencken to waxing reverently about the era of "J.R." and "Chelly," former Blackhawks Jeremy Roenick and Chris Chelios.

Weinberg received a bachelor's degree from Yale University and a law degree from the University of Chicago, but quit his job with a downtown law firm in 1991 to begin writing The Blue Line full time. Initially, the program was going to be a typical ode-to-the-joys- of-hockey publication.

"When we started The Blue Line, we wanted to be a fan magazine," he says over a cafe mocha in a Chicago coffee shop. "I wanted it to be something that gave additional insight into the event that was going on. But the Blackhawks tried to hurt us at every turn."

For example, Weinberg cites his denial of media credentials.

"That marginalized us as a publication," he says. "We couldn't get day-of-game pictures, we couldn't do profiles, we couldn't do feature stories."

Then The Blue Line got hit again. Weinberg lost some advertisers, which he blames on Wirtz. Weinberg says Wirtz called Coors Beer directly and told them to pull their ads from The Blue Line.

"We got that information from people at Coors, and they had no reason to lie," Weinberg says.

(Jim DeMaria, director of public relations for the Blackhawks, declined to comment on The Blue Line or Weinberg's book.)

Nevertheless, the caustic Blue Line persevered for six years. But in 1997, Weinberg called it quits.

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