Pro Football Hall of Famers
Check out the recent inductees as well as other notables enshrined in Canton.
When the 44 men and women charged with the power to determine the names of the persons who will enter the Hall of Fame gather annually in their secret meeting room, they must honor a very important rule regarding the things that should and shouldn’t be considered.
Off-field conduct has no role in the process.
The specific bylaw reads as follows: “The only criteria for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame are a nominee’s achievements and contributions as a player, coach, or contributor in professional football in the United States of America.” Though the presence of the words “and contributions” could be interpreted as permitting consideration of behavior when not playing football, the powers-that-be have been very clear, informing the voters in unambiguous terms that only statistics and other stuff that happens when the game is being played should influence the process.
The recent rash on off-field misconduct by active players like Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who received a conditional suspension of six games under the Personal Conduct Policy despite never being arrested, and by Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who was charged with statutory rape of a 16-year-old prostitute, has sparked discussion regarding whether the Hall of Fame should consider matters other than on-field achievements. “I do believe that it’s more than just how you conduct yourself on and off the field as a member of the National Football League,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said when I met with him in May. “That’s part of your contribution to the game.”
Goodell freely admits that it’s not his call. “These are decisions the Hall of Fame is going to have to make, not me,” Goodell said. “But if you ask me a specific question, ‘Is it just their contributions on the field and their statistics?’ I don’t think that’s the case.”
We decided to take Goodell’s opinion to the folks who guard the gates, asking them whether they agree or disagree with the Commissioner’s belief that off-field conduct should help dictate whether a player deserves a place in the Hall of Fame. Eventually, we received input from 35 of the 44 voters who cast ballots in 2010.
The results show that, at a minimum, the subject requires further debate. Although 20 of the voters prefer the system in its current form, 12 favor consideration of off-field conduct. Three of the voters indicated no real preference, merely stating a willingness to accept any decision the Hall of Fame eventually would make.
Charles Chandler, formerly of the Charlotte Observer, prefers to keep off-field conduct off the table. “The integrity of the game is a critical issue and the Commissioner is to be commended for his commitment to guarding it,” Chandler said. “However, this is a delicate issue for the Hall of Fame, and opening the door for subjectivity could lead places we can’t even begin to anticipate. Giving a group of media members license to be judge and jury over character issues will only complicate a selection process that already is challenging enough.”
Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News also fears the proverbial slippery slope. “Where do you draw the line?” Domowitch asked. “If a guy tests positive for marijuana his second year in the league or is arrested for DUI but goes on to have a prolific career and has no more off-field issues, how do you treat him? What if the positive drug test comes later in his career? Should it wipe out all of his on-field accomplishments?”
It could be argued that the slope already has been treated with 10 barrels of crude oil. The process of drawing lines between players from different positions and from different eras creates an analysis that depends far less on objectivity than it does on the subjective notion of knowing a Hall of Famer when seeing a Hall of Famer. At a certain point, however, the number of ingredients that migrate into the pot could make it impossible to ever make a reliable decision as to whether the stew tastes good. Said Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “If they add the requirement that these fellas also must be saints and the selectors are the ones who must decide, that Saturday selection meeting we have before each Super Bowl will have to be extended by several days.”
Still, many think that writers shouldn’t ever make decisions based on morals. “There’s already a place for what the Commissioner wants,” Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said. “It’s called heaven.”
One of the voters was even more pointed in his criticism of efforts to weave off-field conduct into the equation. “Roger Goodell is getting carried away with his role as judge, jury, and executioner,” said Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. “He should do his own job better before he worries about the Hall of Fame voting,” Stellino added, pointing to his belief that Goodell’s “fingerprints were all over” the 2006 labor deal that his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, recommended to ownership -- and that the owners now abhor.
Allowing the voters to consider off-field contributions gives rise to another question. What should be done about players with marginal on-field credentials but who made significant off-field contributions? Safety Pat Tillman, for example, never would get into the Hall of Fame if only his football performances were evaluated. He spent only four years in the NFL, starting only 39 games. But his decision to leave football and join the military, coupled with his death in the line of duty, have made him one of the most celebrated NFL figures of the past generation. Then there’s running back Warrick Dunn, whose extensive charitable efforts coupled with nearly 11,000 rushing yards (he’s 19th on the all-time list, less than 300 yards behind O.J. Simpson) would be enough to get him over the top.
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