A monument to George Preston Marshall, former owner of Washington’s NFL team, has been removed from the stadium where they used to play because he was a segregationist who prevented black players from playing on his team until the government forced him to integrate. That raises a question: Should Marshall’s bust also be removed from the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
The Hall of Fame said that’s not possible: Once the selection committee puts a Hall of Famer in, he’s a Hall of Famer forever.
“Once elected, nothing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s bylaws allows for the removal of a Hall member,” the Hall of Fame said in a statement to PFT.
But the bylaws could, of course, be changed. By declining to change them, the Hall of Fame may be less standing up for Marshall than avoiding the idea that every Hall of Famer is always subject to scrutiny, even decades after he’s enshrined in Canton.
O.J. Simpson would be an obvious example of a player who some would say should be removed, but there’s a fundamental difference between Simpson and Marshall: Simpson was elected solely for what he did on the field, and no one disputes that Simpson was a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Marshall was elected specifically as a contributor, which the Hall of Fame says is designed for people who made outstanding contributions to the game in capacities other than playing or coaching.
In 1963, when Marshall was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, his years as an owner were viewed as “outstanding contributions.” But with more than half a century to reflect on Marshall’s role in the NFL, it’s hard to justify the stance that his contributions were, on balance, worthy of a bust in Canton. Any positives he contributed to the league are outweighed by the enormous negative of keeping black players off his team solely because of the color of their skin.