When it comes to changes to the Hall of Fame selection process, there’s only one adjustment that seems to enjoy any traction with the folks who cast the ballots: Transparency.
Currently, everything is done secretly. No one knows who voted, or didn’t vote, for a given candidate. (That reality necessarily makes Howard Eskin’s recent Twitter report regarding the blackballing of Cris Carter harder to fathom.)
But simply making the votes of the 44-person panel publicly known won’t solve anything. Instead, it will make it easier for those who lobby the voters to identify who should be targeted. And it would make it easier for fans who choose to badger and/or heckle the writers to know which ones have kept their favorite player(s) out of Canton.
Transparency makes sense only if the panel grows significantly in size and composition. Even then, there could be only a small handful of voters who are keeping a certain player out, and those voters could find themselves bombarded with email, snail mail, phone calls, and/or catcalls.
As currently constituted, transparency would have one significant benefit for the voting panel. It would be easier to enforce any wink-nod-you-support-my-guy-I’ll-support-yours deals among voters, since there would then be evidence as to whether the deals have been honored. Also, just as fans and candidates and candidates’ family members and friends would be able to lobby recalcitrant voters, the voters who favor the inclusion of a specific candidate would be able to know with specificity the persons who are keeping someone out, and the voters who want that someone in could lobby the other voter to change his or her mind — or, in theory, the voters could lobby the Hall of Fame to dump said voter.
My friend and colleague Peter King touches on some of the issues regarding the Hall of Fame selection process in his Monday Morning Quarterback column. On some points we agree, and one some points we strongly disagree.
Peter mentions one area of disagreement in particular. He called me last week, and during the 30-minute conversation he expressed displeasure with my “assumption” that some members of the 44-person panel resist expansion because they do not want their power over the process to be diminished. As Peter writes today, he said he was insulted.
In the interests of completeness, I responded by saying he’s naive. (Which possibly may have insulted him even more.) Though I’ve spent enough time around Peter over the last two-plus years to know that his motivations are pure, human nature indicates that some, if not many, of the 44-person panel will be inclined to resist any changes that would dilute their individual influence over the process.
Peter also dismisses in MMQB the notion that personal biases may be keeping guys like Cris Carter out of the Hall of Fame because Peter has never heard a voter say, “Cris Carter’s an idiot, so I’m not voting for him.” But that’s not how it works. The voters who have biases unrelated to the things the by-laws allow them to consider won’t be publicly declaring that they’re not voting for a candidate due to any reasons other than merit. The process is far more subtle than that.
Maybe my perspective on matters of this nature has been warped by years of trying to pierce through the obvious denials by workplace managers of discrimination against employees based on gender, race, age, disability, or other legally-protected characteristics. No one ever admits to improper motivations in that context. To the extent that any of the 44 voters are driven by factors that they aren’t supposed to be considering when it comes to the Cris Carters and Bills Parcellses of the football world, they won’t be admitting it, either.
That’s the biggest reason why the panel needs to grow. With only 44 votes and an 80-percent threshold in place to get someone in, one vote has too much say when it comes to keeping someone out.
Making the votes transparent could solve that problem by making voters realize that they may have to articulate to someone credible (or at least plausible) reasons for keeping a given player out. But while publicizing the votes would make “no” votes based on forbidden factors less likely, it also would make it more challenging for voters who genuinely oppose a given candidate to stand their ground.
All things considered, then, maybe transparency isn’t a good idea. But the panel needs to expand, and people other than writers and broadcasters need to be included.
Unfortunately, the annual shelf-life for discussions of his nature will soon expire. (Some would say it already has.) Thus, as long as the folks who run the Hall of Fame can weather the storm for a week at the most every February, change will never truly come to the process.
To the extent that any of you want to directly lobby for change, Peter has provided the mailing address for the guy who currently runs the Hall of Fame: Steve Perry, president, Pro Football Hall of Fame, 2121 George Halas Drive NW, Canton, Ohio 44708.
After poking around the Hall of Fame’s website, it also appears that comments also can be directed to Hall of Fame vice president Joe Horrigan on this page, which for many of you will be far more efficient than writing a letter.