Debate regarding relevance of off-field conduct to Hall of Fame consideration begins

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s recent remarks regarding his belief that off-field conduct should be relevant to consideration for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame has been met with disagreement by more than a few of the men and women responsible for determining on an annual basis the persons who are worthy for inclusion among the game’s immortals.

We’re in the process of polling each and every one of them for a feature in our upcoming season preview magazine.  We’ve reached out preliminarily to most of the 44, we’ve already heard back from many of them, we hope to hear from all of them, and we’ll soon be calling the ones who have yet to embrace the revolutionary new technology known as e-mail.

Speaking of technology, one of the arguments being raised in opposition to the consideration of off-field conduct is the reality that advances in digital media and the coverage of sports generally necessarily makes us all more likely to know about off-field misconduct that previously was hidden.  Then there’s the reality that plenty of folks already have made it into the Hall of Fame based on rules strictly prohibiting consideration of off-field misconduct — including a man who soon may be a registered sex offender.

“Many current Hall of Famers had off-field issues that were well known at
the time they were being considered,” Frank Cooney of the Sports Xchange, a Hall of Fame voter, tells Howard Balzer of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, another Hall of Fame voter.  “So to change the selection rules
now would skew historic perspective on Hall of Fame selections and
create a line of demarcation — pre off-field considerations and post
off-field considerations.”

The easy answer to that problem would be to go back and throw out guys whose off-field issues would render them ineligible if off-field issues were considered at the time they got in.  Another solution would be to grandfather in the grandfathers of the game despite any warts, and then to apply the new standard going forward.

It would be easy to justify, given the increased importance of the NFL to our society.  As Al Michaels declared from the stage of the NBC “upfronts” six days ago, football has become America’s clear-cut, undisputed national pastime.  Perhaps the Hall of Fame needs to recognize this fact by taking into account the things that a man does once he exits the gridiron — especially since all players now reside squarely in the public eye.  And they know it before they ever sign their first contract.

A change in the approach wouldn’t necessarily require a revision to the bylaws.   As Pete Fierle, the Hall of Fame’s Manager of Digital Media and Communications, told us last week, “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.”  Applying the kind of interpretation to that bylaw that lawyers and judges routinely apply to statutes and regulations, the key words are “achievements and contributions.”  The term “achievements” fairly can be read as encompassing the player’s statistics and honors and team accomplishments.  And the term “contributions” fairly can be read as the things that the player has done for the overall good of the game.  Necessarily, this would then encompass actions that harm the game — and that thus become negative contributions — regardless of whether they happen during the game, after the game, before the game, or away from the field.

The emergence of the Personal Conduct Policy constitutes a clear acknowledgment by the NFL that off-field behavior matters.  Thus, the folks responsible for crafting — and interpreting — the rules for consideration regarding eligibility for the Hall of Fame should be willing to consider whether times have sufficiently changed to make relevant things that previously have been ignored. 

Then there’s the question of whether off-field issues truly have been ignored.  Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, who was forced to wait two years before being admitted into the Hall of Fame, likely would disagree.  We’re also told that one voter who was a notorious stickler for the rules nevertheless was opposed to letting Lawrence Taylor into the Hall of Fame in his first year of consideration, due to his off-field issues.  So if non-football considerations will from time to time creep into the inherently complex stew of factors that the 44 voters consider, why not simply nod to the elephant that periodically enters the room?

We’ll have more on this issue in our season preview magazine.  And we’ll possibly be teasing some more of the content once the pre-sale ad is ready.  Until then, feel free to supply your own comments.

As if you ever need an invitation.

21 responses to “Debate regarding relevance of off-field conduct to Hall of Fame consideration begins

  1. This is a classic case of changing the rules post event, and then prosecuting those from the past on the new rules. If I spit on a sidewalk one day where no law prohibiting it exists, then two weeks later a law is passed, should I be prosecuted for my act? The obvious answer should be of course not. Having said that, I understand the outrage of some who say no one should be honored if they also participated in what they consider aggregious activity, I truly get that. The fact is you can’t change the rules mid-stream and retroactively punish those for who received the honor by the rules in place at the time. If you want to change the rules now, then go ahead but you ARE going to have to have two lists which the pro ranks seem to abhor.

  2. A stupid arguement by Cooney…..that it would be unfair to change the rules now. It has been rule changes throughout the decades that has allowed many of the players to be voted into the HOF. Half the players wouldn’t be HOFer’s if it weren’t for the expansion of the NFL (watered down teams where the better players were definitely playing against inferior opposition), the expansion of the schedules from 12 games to the current 16 (simple math tells you that it would be much more difficult to rush for the coveted 1,000yds in 12 gms than in 16), rule changes where DB’s can’t touch a WR anymore, etc. etc. Whether it be sports, politics, or life in general, your “off-field” or everyday life should be considered when determining your status.

  3. Several members of the Hall have had a side profile bust added to their front facial bust as a public service to the communities they live in.

  4. If you want to ignore L.T.’s contribution to the game and the lasting impact that he had on how the game is played now, don’t bother even having a Hall of Fame.
    What is the HOF? Its a museum. You going to take Ben Franklin out of the Smithsonian just because he enjoyed the company of young boys?

  5. There shouldn’t be any debate until they rename the hall “The Pro Football/How You Lived Your Life Hall Of Fame”. A lot of players and coaches don’t live up to other expectations of being a good person. If they bring personalities into play it will only make it even more of a popularity contest and give those with a hard-on against a player another way of keeping them out. Do we really want to in power others as to start judging players on what is and is not allowed if they want to be in the Hall? It might sound good to some but where will it lead? With the media reporting only their spin on events I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be judge in the publics eye! Film at 11.

  6. So basically Frank Cooney’s argument is that because we didn’t acknowledge mistakes before….we shouldn’t acknowledge them now.
    Is he a Republican? He has to be a Republican.

  7. Would not be hard to draw a clear line in the sand regarding what conduct is unacceptable for entry.
    1. Convicted felons.
    Felony is given a separate classification due to the seriousness of the crime.
    You would have to make it based on convictions though due to overzealous prosecutors in some areas.
    People will never forget the trouble Ray Lewis got into or OJ’s murder trial, but neither resulted in a felony conviction. OJ couldn’t stay out of trouble and eventually was convicted of armed robbery and sits in a 8×8 in Nevada.
    People can remember what they want about crimes committed and vote accordingly. Keeping it based on convictions makes it clear what is tolerated and what is not. The Personal Conduct policy now is more based on star power and how bad Warden Goodell’s heartburn is that day.
    Make the same standard for current players as well. Felony conviction while playing results in a permanent ban from the game.
    2. Positive drug tests. League currently sits with quickly escalating punishments. HoF should adopt rules stating two positive tests will be a disqualifier.
    Aren’t players kicked out of NFL on the third positive anyways?
    Former players would be pretty much exempt from this rule so it should cause little uproar.
    Making it affect previous players would be similar to Brian Cushing’s RotY revote, was pretty messy.
    Make this a standard starting with 2010 season. Everyone is aware of the OJ fiasco, his bronze bust is forever tainted anyways. LT hasn’t been convicted just yet, but having it affect players from this day forward will only affect a few players.

  8. It wouldn’t be hard or impossible to do, but it’s the wrong thing to do.
    It’s a Hall of Fame for players who left a mark on the way the game was played, even after they left it – the sport’s way of showing future generations who was responsible for creating the sport that most kids will just take for granted.
    As such, the performance of a guy on the game is all that matters – if OJ was truly a ground-breaking running back who made such an impact on the game that it changed it in somehow, there’s just no way you can have a credible Hall of Fame without him. (I don’t really judge whether he was, I’m not old enough to have seen him outside a courtroom)
    If a guy is bad enough off the field, he’ll be hurt by that during his playing time to suffer on the field – even if Pacman Jones could have had the talent to be the best corner in the game, ever, he’ll have a very hard time ever proving that because he was such an idiot outside the field.
    The Hall of Fame should be for the great players, regardless of whether or not we want to have a beer with them, or let them babysit our kids.

  9. Why not just add a “Remarks” to his HOF commentary such as: Arrested 3 times for DUI, accused twice of rape, suspended 4 games for violating the drug policy, etc, etc, etc. Show his great achievements but also show what kind of person he was “during” his playing days.

  10. This is ridiculous. It’s the Hall of Fame – not the Hall of Piety. The only standard should be how the nominees play the game. If a player wants to be a boy scout in his off time, that’s great. I’d applaud that. But, as a fan, that’s secondary to me. What I care about is how good a football player he is.
    Can you imagine a Hall of Fame without OJ Simpson in it? Without Lawrence Taylor?
    And once we start eliminating players for this or that, where does it end? Murder? What about manslaughter? Rape? What about sexual harassment? Armed robbery? What about non-armed robbery? Betting on football? What about betting on horses?
    Do we say Randy Moss can never get in because he smoked pot and bumped a traffic cop with his car? Do we keep moving that line in the sand every time the public gets outraged about some new crime against humanity?
    And that’s only one small, illogical step from voting in mediocre players for NOT getting into trouble.

  11. Yes, let’s make it the Hall of Who Was Lucky or Devious Enough Not to Have His Dirty Laundry Aired.
    This is a terrible, terrible idea for so many reasons. Are we going to boot out Jim Brown, too? Or do you get to stay as long as your on-field contributions were worthwhile enough to outweigh the perception of your other stuff? How about Jerome Bettis, who cultivated exactly the kind of positive public image that Goodell surely craves, but wrote a book after his career admitting that he sold drugs and engaged in other such behavior in high school?
    As if the selection process weren’t subjective enough. If only the morality police would stick to policing themselves…

  12. The easy solution? My God, why does everyone think that there’s an easy solution.
    If you want to start with this bull, you’ll end up with a lot of current players up in arms over being excluded while they keep guys like Irvin and Hornung in the HOF. You’d have to empty out the HOF of ALL the sports because of the drunks, whores, gamblers, murderers, thieves and that includes players, owners AND contributers. Do you really want to go down that road?
    Let’s not forget that some of these guys would be considered sex offenders today because the age of consent was much lower back when they were younger. Should the HOF voters retroactively “LT” them out because they wouldn’t be legal today? The use of cocaine and other drugs were prevalent AND legal during the early parts of the 20th century and a lot of guys in MLB used them. Should the voters go back and gig these guys for that as well?
    In my opinion, there is only ONE sin that I believe should keep you out of the HOF and that’s betting on your own sport. If you do that as a coach or a player then you should be barred from the game and NEVER given consideration for the HOF. If you’re a former coach or player and you try to sway an active player or coach to throw games or shave points and you’re in the HOF then I think you need to be thrown out. In my opinion, this is the worst sin that you can commit. It’s why I have no sympathy for the Black Sox, Pete Rose and have held it against Alex Karras and Paul Hornung. Things happen in life and they don’t always go like you wished so I understand all that but the gambling is just unforgivable.

  13. MrHumble says:
    A stupid arguement by Cooney…..that it would be unfair to change the rules now. It has been rule changes throughout the decades that has allowed many of the players to be voted into the HOF
    The voters are smart enough to take that into consideration. I know that doesn’t seem right to many of you but if you stop and think about it, a lot of these guys were put in despite the numbers. The Pro Football HOF didn’t open up in the late 1930s like MLB’s so they were considering guys who were long past their playing days, just like many of the guys that were considered for the baseball HOF (and the game had changed even more drastically for baseball).
    You can talk about the 12 vs 16 game schedule all you want but it really has been looked at. There are guys now who are putting up numbers that guys even in the ’60s and ’70s couldn’t produce but they’re never going to be in the running for the HOF because they’ll never get pass the smell test vs their own peers.

  14. If a player is deemed worthy of playing in the NFL, and earning millions of $s while doing so, then he should be allowed to be voted into the HOF. If Goodell doesn’t want them eligible to be voted into the HOF, then he shouldn’t allow them to play in the NFL.
    And then there’s the gray area:
    What if a player is a bad a** early in his career, but turns himself around and becomes a good citizen for his last 10 years in the league.
    What if a player is a good citizen during his playing days and becomes a bad a** a couple of years after retiring.
    What if a player is a good citizen and after being voted into the HOF becomes a bad a**.
    Now the last 2 scenarios aren’t likely to happen. But they could.

  15. Simple solution for Goodell. If you don’t want a player considered for the HOF then don’t allow him to play in the NFL.

  16. You should not consider off field issues. The NFL HOF is the best one. Baseball’s is horrible. One of the reasons it’s a joke is Pete Rose isn’t in. LT, OJ, all the other jerks should stay in. Let’s say (and I am not trying to start a debate that he will) Big Ben wins two more Super Bowls. Are you telling me that he shouldn’t get in even though he would clealry be one of the all time greats?
    One thing I think we can all agree on, is we are all glad Florio doesn’t have a vote for the hall of fame.

  17. this class sucks says:
    You should not consider off field issues. The NFL HOF is the best one. Baseball’s is horrible.
    When betting ON baseball while you’re playing or coaching becomes an off the field issue, you’ll have a point but that’s a load of horse crap. If Pete Rose EVER gets into the HOF then that’s when it becomes the real joke. Right now, it’s the NFL HOF for allowing Hornung to be enshrined despie the fact that he bet on the NFL (That is NOT in dispute). Rose is out for not only betting on MLB but also on the Reds. He claims that he never bet against them but I don’t buy that one. It’s the last thing that he will ever cop out to because then he’s not only a gambler but a FIXER ala the Black Sox and I’ll BET that he’ll go to his grave denying that.

  18. The fact that it was ignored in the past or that it is easier to find out now are not valid debate points and are designed to throw off the true debate of whether or not off field actions should count in HOF selection.

  19. Whether we like it or not, off-field actions DO have an influence on whether someone gets into a HOF
    We see it all the time with writers showing their biases in articles and/or voting for common awards every year.
    I already picture someone committing some crime and a writer stating that he will never vote for a convicted criminal that does whatever it was that he did
    Or I picture some political wacko angry that someone campaigns hard for some stance that he doesn’t like

  20. This has to be one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in a long time. I don’t need to look to the NFL, football players, or Roger Goodell to be my moral compass. Its a game and the HOF should be based upon what is accomplished on the field. Bringing in character complicates things because election is based upon opinion of a players accomplishments. A players misgivings off the field could be judged worse by one voter and not bad by another.
    Ridiculous idea

  21. The only thing that should count is the ability they displayed on the football field, its ok to judge and debate every individual story. Looking at a big picture in Ireland for example the previous first minister Ian Paisley (equivalent of a President) has been accused of terrrorist acts does that make him a non event in history? Sports transcend a lot, race, religion and class nobody can say everyone in the hall is a role model but they can always look at the game they played with the respect and honour it deserved, the sooner Mr Goodell realises this the better it is and always will be about the game you all love and deserve.

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