Six months after Paul Tagliabue retired as commissioner of the NFL, he was a nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2007. The Hall of Fame selection committee voted him down.
In 2008 and 2009, Tagliabue was a finalist again. And again, the selection committee that meets every year on the day before the Super Bowl voted Tagliabue down.
In 2017, there was a renewed effort to get Tagliabue in the Hall of Fame, this time under the new “contributors” category. The selection committee again voted him down — making him the only person not selected among the eight nominees since the Hall of Fame adopted a special “contributors” category of Hall of Famers.
Now, as the Hall of Fame prepares for its larger Class of 2020 in commemoration of the NFL’s 100th season, Tagliabue is once again a nominee. And this time, Tagliabue will get to circumvent the selection committee that has voted him down repeatedly.
The Hall of Fame has introduced new rules, just for this year, so that a “blue-ribbon panel” of selectors will choose 15 Hall of Famers from the 38 finalists, including Tagliabue, who were announced today. The selection committee that has repeatedly voted Tagliabue down won’t get to vote on Tagliabue this time around.
It’s hard not to think that this represents favoritism toward Tagliabue on the part of the Hall of Fame. Everyone is well aware that some members of the Hall of Fame selection committee believe Tagliabue doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame because he didn’t do enough to address concussions and CTE. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Tagliabue’s accomplishments as commissioner are worthy of a bust in Canton, or whether he failed to act to reduce brain injuries and doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame as a result. But that question should be debated by the selection committee, the same way the pros and cons of every nominee have always been debated by the selection committee.
Tagliabue’s case has been debated by the selection committee, on four different occasions and with Tagliabue getting nominated under two different processes (first as a regular nominee, then as a “contributor” nominee), and all four times, Tagliabue was voted down. The fifth time may be the charm for Tagliabue, but it will come with suspicions that the powers that be at the Hall of Fame rammed him through, violating the longstanding Hall of Fame selection protocols in the process.