The case of Lawrence Taylor, a Hall of Famer who faces up to four years in jail for statutory rape, reminds me of the first time I took my son to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There we stood, before the bust of Orenthal James Simpson.
He had been acquitted (somehow) of double murder, and he had been found legally responsible for the deaths in civil court. Eventually, he’d find himself in hot water in connection with memorabilia that he by all appearances was trying to sell without exposing the money to the multi-million-dollar judgment held by the family of his ex-wife and the family of Ron Goldman.
Should O.J. Simpson have remained in the Hall of Fame? If Lawrence Taylor is convicted, should he stay there? The rules of the Hall of Fame inexplicably exempt off-field behavior from the consideration, a rule that could make for some interesting discussions if Marvin Harrison is behind bars when the voters retreat behind closed doors to consider his ultimate football fate.
If the folks who run the show in Canton won’t change the rules to eject men convicted of felonies from the Hall of Fame, maybe we should aim one level higher. If the NFL adopts a rule permanently banning players who commit serious violations of the law, surely the Pro Football Hall of Fame would respect that approach.
And why shouldn’t the league office shun convicted felons? The league hopes to protect the shield. A former player can do just as much damage to the league’s image as an active player. When an O.J. Simpson or a Lawrence Taylor gets in trouble, the same media outlets that report and discuss and debate cases involving a Mike Vick or a Ben Roethlisberger will report and discuss and debate the cases involving retired players.
So why not excommunicate former players who bring shame to the game? If they’re receiving ongoing benefits from the league, they rightly have an ongoing obligation not to harm the league’s interests.
The NFL should be proud of every man enshrined in Canton, and every parent who takes a child to the Hall of Fame shouldn’t have to quickly nudge him or her along when they linger before the image of a man who has posed both for a bronze bust and for a mug shot.
We’re not suggesting that every player who gets arrested once should be blocked or removed from the Hall of Fame. But there should be a procedure in place for cutting ties with men who commit heinous acts after their careers end. Whether it’s done via hard-and-fast rules or on a case-by-case basis, former players should be subject to the same type of banishment that sports like baseball aren’t bashful about using, when justified.