The Sharper Mailbag
You have spoken. You positively, unequivocally, do not want Darren Sharper or any person accused of heinous crimes considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I voiced my opinion in the Monday column. Now, it’s time to hear yours. Here are your emails on the topic:
OFF FIELD VS. ON FIELD. You are a person who typically sees the gray in situations. Why now is this so black and white? Possession of certain drugs might be a felony. I can see why for some people that would not disqualify a candidate. But murder (Aaron Hernandez) or serial rape (Darren Sharper) could disqualify. I see no reason why subjective analysis of on-field accomplishments is fair game, but subjective evaluation of criminal behavior is not. Induction in the Hall of Fame is an honor and is supposed to reflect the best of the game, on and off the field.
That is where we differ. I understand that you want a person’s off-field life to match the on-field life. But as I asked in my column on Monday, what crime is so objectionable that will make a player not qualify for the Hall of Fame? That is where I have a real problem. My problem is that, in my opinion, we should be deciding on whether a football player is worthy of induction to the Hall of Fame. I do not believe it is our job or our responsibility to determine whether the actions of a player after he retires should determine whether he gets into the Hall of Fame.
BLIND VOTE. If we want to eliminate the off-field stuff, why not just make the voting blind? I will give you several sets of stats, and you can pick based on that criteria. Why muddy the waters with all of the other details like leadership, innovation, etc. If we're going to be totally objective, let's do it right.
Well, one of the reasons why Michael Irvin was a great candidate for the Hall of Fame is because he unequivocally was the leader of the Dallas Cowboys when they had their dominant era two decades ago. Michael Irvin’s influence as a leader in the locker room and on the field for the Cowboys should matter, in my opinion. That is a football thing. Crimes after a player retires are not a football thing.
THE "KNOW IT WHEN WE SEE IT" THEORY. I understand the concern over "slippery slopes." However, couldn't voters simply develop a test like our courts use for obscenity? That test is simply, I know it when I see it. An individual will typically know something should rise to the level of warranting a player's exclusion. Serial rape seems like one of those things, no?
It does. No question about it. But my point Monday was very simple: Everyone will believe that serial rape—if proven—is incredibly serious and reprehensible. But the 46 people on the committee will have different standards for crimes. We should not make decisions about whether a football player is a Hall of Fame football player while considering what happened off the field.
BYLAWS ARE A COP OUT. I generally admire your opinion, but I feel you and the Hall of Fame have it wrong. I also feel the bylaws are a convenient cop out for voters. If the laws were changed to allow members to consider off-field transgressions, a roomful of intelligent people would most likely be able to figure it out. Sharper being accused of rape? Most voters would say we can't put him in. The same room of voters might look at Brett Favre with his partying, addiction to painkillers and other questionable behavior and say not serious enough and vote him in. This is not a slippery slope but will allow a group of people incredibly knowledgeable about each player to make a decision on a case-by-case basis.
Very good email. I appreciate your sentiment. But there is going to come a time when the Hall of Fame will have to consider a player who stands halfway between Sharper and Favre on your badness scale. Then, how should we rule?
ONLY FOOTBALL MATTERS? PLEASE. While I agree that putting Sharper in amidst his legal battles is tricky, I think it’s naive to think that a player’s persona or off-field issues don’t factor into the selection process. Humans can try their best to exclude certain facets of a player’s personality/story because they are instructed, but there is never a way for a committee member to fully excise things like rape charges or convictions. Hiding behind the “only football matters” mantra is patronizing for any fan following the process.
I cannot speak for the other 45 voters. I can only speak for me. I never, ever, ever have considered what a player did off the field when the time came to determine whether I was going to vote for him for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I am one of 46. I have not polled the rest of the group. All I can say is I believe the way the bylaws are written are correct, and I do not want to have a character or morals clause in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
THE CASE OF JIM TYRER. There is a precedent for the Darren Sharper situation—Jim Tyrer, a guy whose career is probably on the right side of the line for HOF consideration, but who committed a horrific crime after it was over. On paper, with nine pro bowl selections and as a six-time all-pro, Tyrer's case is virtually identical to those of Ron Yary and Roosevelt Brown, and probably better than Gary Zimmerman or Bob Brown. Yet Tyrer has not been voted into the Hall, given that he killed his wife and then himself. Do you have a sense for how the process played out that resulted in his omission, and do you agree with it?
Jim Tyrer was first eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1980, approximately a decade before I was a member of the voting committee. I was never once asked to consider him for entry into the Hall and now he would be a candidate for the Seniors Committee. (I am not a member of that committee.) And though it does seem like a comparable case to Sharper’s, I honestly can’t judge it as such because I’ve never considered Tyrer’s career.
BETTER THAN BASEBALL. The rules are the rules. If the criteria is only on-field activities, then that is what Darren Sharper should be judged on. Honestly, I think Sharper—without the felony charges—is borderline. With them? Were I voting, and all other things being equal, it would cost Sharper my vote. But that is a matter of personal choice. Frankly, this works much better than what we're seeing with the Baseball Hall of Fame and certain members of the Baseball Writers of America who—without evidence, charges or anything beyond their suspicions—have withheld their votes from players on theoretical PED use.
I agree. Thank you. I do think the football voting, at least to me, is preferable to baseball.
THE LAST WORD. It strains credulity to believe that moms and dads taking their kids to Canton could look upon the bust of Darren Sharper with anything but derision in light of what’s been alleged. He has no place there if convicted. I’m a huge football fan and defend players whenever is warranted, but there’s just no way I can look at Sharper’s candidacy with anything except anger.
You represent the vast majority of people who have responded to me in the past eight days. I understand your anger about Sharper’s candidacy. I understand that most of you would want us to consider criminal activities after a person’s career was over. I disagree, but I hear you and I understand your opinion and your distaste for people who have done criminal acts after retirement. But you also have to understand our problems in drawing a line somewhere with the candidates for the Hall of Fame.