Whenever we suggest that the sportswriters and broadcasters with the keys to the Hall of Fame consider as part of their deliberations factors such as off-field behavior and/or whether and to what extent the candidate was a jerk, one of the voters inevitably will claim that “no one has ever said ‘I’m not voting for [insert name of player who may be a jerk] because he was a jerk,’” and we inevitably will respond by saying, “No one is dumb enough to admit to it, but it remains an unspoken factor.”
Reinforcing our theory is Ira Kaufman of the Tampa Tribune, a Hall of Fame voter who’ll be charged with the task of convincing enough of his colleagues to give a thumb’s up to former Buccaneers and Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp in February 2013. As Kaufman recently explained on WHBO-AM radio (via JoeBucsFan.com), he’s concerned that recent controversies regarding Sapp will make it harder to make the case for induction.
“He’s killin’ me. He’s killin’ me,” Kaufman said of Sapp. “And by that I mean that in nine months it’s going my pleasure, my privilege to present the case for No. 99 in front of the Hall of Fame panel. Forty-four people are going to be looking at him. I have very powerful ammo to get this man in, I believe, based on the merits of what he did on the football field.
“But you’re right. Some of those people in that room are looking for a reason to vote ‘no’ on this guy based on the way he treated them. We don’t need anymore ammo. We don’t need him getting fired from NFL Network, which could happen. We don’t need the bankruptcy. We don’t need him getting him in trouble with Jeremy Shockey. Whether it’s true or not, he shouldn’t have said it. All these ancillary things are not helping my case. So from a very selfish and personal point of view, he’s killin’ me.”
It’s no secret that Sapp has few fans in the media. At times, he can be very engaging and charming. At other times, well, he can be neither engaging nor charming, to say the least.
But according to the voters who don’t want to see the voting process change, none of those extraneous issues even enter the thought processes of the folks who determine who does and who doesn’t get in.
Kaufman’s candid comments should forever put to rest the idea that the voters consider only on-field football feats. The human beings who have to come up with a pass/fail assessment for each candidate are influenced by the factors that typically influence human beings. And even if they know they shouldn’t consider the way Sapp treated them or Sapp’s comments about Shockey or the fact that Sapp filed bankruptcy or his claim (which some in the media find dubious) that he has lost a Super Bowl ring that otherwise would have been sold to pay off his debts or his ownership of a “Large Nude women painting,” at some level those thoughts are going to creep into their brains.
Of course, if the folks who determine who gets in to the Hall of Fame would like to try to prove Kaufman wrong, they can put Sapp through on the first ballot. But that won’t change the fact that, regardless of what the Hall of Fame’s bylaws say, the voters can’t limit their focus to the space between the white lines. Maybe the only way to fix this flaw is to change the rules so that they don’t have to try.