It was widely believed that the Hall of Fame voters passed over receiver Terrell Owens ostensibly because of his reputation for divisiveness, even if the truth is that they were merely respecting a de facto waiting line that called for Marvin Harrison making it before Owens. On Thursday, one of the Hall of Fame voters admitted that the reason for T.O.’s omission was his inability to work and play well with others.
“I’ll take you inside the room on this, and it was the second longest discussion we had in the room other that Eddie DeBartolo,” Gary Myers of the New York Daily News told The Dan Patrick Show. “The bottom line on T.O. is he was so disruptive. Now with L.T., you don’t count the off-the-field stuff. That’s a mandate from the Hall of Fame. It’s only what you’ve done on the field. The argument that was made in the room, and I agree with this, is what T.O. did in the locker room is part of –”
“That counts?” asked guest host Ross Tucker. “Why don’t you just evaluate what’s inside the white lines?”
“Because I think that the locker room is an extension of that,” Myers said.
“But how do you really know what happened in the locker room?” Tucker said.
“But he tore teams apart.”
“But how do you really know that?”
“He’s a Hall of Fame player that five teams couldn’t wait to get rid of,” Myers said. “So what does that tell you about how disruptive he was?”
Myers then said he believes that Owens will make it in eventually, despite being viewed as a “cancer” by multiple teams.
The biggest problem with this logic is that, if it keeps Owens out once, it should keep him out forever. And Myers admits that it won’t. Instead, it provides the justification for ignoring the possibility that Owens objectively was a better player than Harrison and putting Harrison in before Owens.
The rhetoric used to defend the waiting-line approach separately becomes problematic because it’s overstated. The notion that “five teams couldn’t wait to get rid of” Owens simply isn’t true. In San Francisco, he was traded at a time when he was trying to leave via free agency, but a technicality allowed the 49ers to argue he wasn’t a free agent. In Philadelphia, the Eagles decided to cut him only after Owens decided he was going to force his way out because the Eagles wouldn’t renegotiate his contract following a stellar 2004 season.
Besides, not all voters agree with Myers. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, it’s inaccurate to conclude that the entire room accepted the idea that Owens’ on-field achievements should be ignored because of the fact that Owens played for multiple teams and/or had a reputation for being a pain in the butt.
That’s not to say Owens wasn’t actually a pain in the butt. He may have been. But enough voters apparently felt strongly enough that Owens shouldn’t get in on his first try, and that Harrison (whose own candidacy possibly was delayed once or twice by troubling evidence regarding multiple Philadelphia shootings that never resulted in an arrest or prosecution) deserved to get in now.
And so a sense of order has been preserved, with Harrison getting a bronze bust and a gold jacket now and Owens getting one later. Even if the stated justification for not putting Owens in immediately creates the perception that he should never get in, and unnecessarily (and excessively) characterizes him as a habitually bad teammate.
Why not just say only five modern candidates can get in each year, and with two of the best receivers in NFL history up at the same time, we decided to give the spot to the guy who had been waiting the longest? It’s far closer to the truth, and it can be stated without requiring voters to take shots at a guy who, regardless of his real, embellished, and/or imagined behavior, merits at least some degree of respect for what he accomplished on the field.