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
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.