Last year, when Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com took aim at the Hall of Fame selection process, he was called an “idiot” by Hall of Fame voter Len Pasquarelli. This year, another member of the panel is taking a slightly higher, but no less specious, road when defending the 44-person Canton cabal.
Howard Balzer of the 101espn.com has responded to my ongoing criticism of the process by complaining that it undermines the achievements of the men who made it into the Hall of Fame. “The shame of it is that on a day that is a crowning achievement for the greatest that have played or contributed to pro football, they are disrespected because there is too much attention paid to who didn’t get in rather than celebrating who did,” Balzer writes.
It’s the latest flimsy, superficial, and illogical effort to insulate the selection process from criticism. Basically, Balzer is saying that we shouldn’t express disagreement with the men who were overlooked because to do so would be to demean those who got in.
But how much attention really is being paid this year to those who didn’t get in? By holding the vote the day before the Super Bowl, the 44 have the best possible cover. Come Monday morning, the outcome of the championship game dominates the NFL coverage.
Balzer also floats the “it was an honor just being nominated” card, arguing that designation as one of the 15 finalists should be enough. But there’s a huge difference between knocking on the door and getting in, and Balzer and the other voters surely are smart enough to know that.
Balzer then attacks the fundamental basis for my concern — that the process shouldn’t be exclusively reserved to 44 members of the media, especially when some of them are inexperienced, unemployed, underemployed, and/or otherwise out of their element — by assuming that I’m in position to know nothing about the sausage-making process because I’m not physically in the room to watch the sausage being made. It’s a fancy way of saying “mind your own business” and/or “get off our lawn,” all in the name of protecting the power that the members of the relatively small clique currently possess.
In Balzer’s case, the entity he represents on the panel — the Sports Xchange — holds nearly 10 percent of the votes. In addition to Balzer, the Sports Xchange has owner Frank Cooney, Len Pasquarelli, and Ira Miller on the panel. That gives the Sports Xchange twice the pull of ESPN (John Clayton and Mike Sando) and Sports Illustrated (Peter King and Jim Trotter).
Not bad for an outfit that most casual fans have never even heard of.
Then there’s the fact that Darin Gantt, who represents the Panthers in the room, no longer has an NFL beat. And Dan Wiederer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who filled Sid Hartman’s seat this year, wasn’t even covering football until September 2011.
If 440 people were voting on who gets in, and on who doesn’t, that wouldn’t be a problem. But with only 44 votes, these glitches make the system into a potential mockery.
So here’s what needs to happen. The Canton-area businessmen who are more concerned about throwing a week-long party every August and/or networking with the good ol’ boys need to care a little bit more about a gatekeeping function that has been left in the hands of far too few. If they’re going to insist on one representative per team, they need to be willing to revisit on an annual basis whether the person with the vote: (1) is actually employed by an entity that requires him or her to actively cover that team; and (2) is the best person actively covering that team to hold the vote.
But that would require actual effort.
Balzer’s effort to deflect criticism of the process serves only to reconfirm my belief that the criticism is warranted, and that change is necessary. For example, players and coaches and people who already are in the Hall of Fame should have some say in the process.
Regardless, far more than 44 writers/broadcasters should be involved, and the members of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees should be willing to get this thing fixed. If they don’t, no amount of wagon circling by the likes of Balzer and Pasquarelli will prevent the public from losing all faith in the process.