This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And this is The Score.
One of the greatest players in football history, Lawrence Taylor, has been accused of raping a 16-year-old girl. L.T. has a well-known history of drug problems but his troubles never included rape. Should he be convicted, there are those calling for his removal from the Professional Football of Fame. I imagine those outraged people must be the same faction who have previously called for O.J. Simpson’s removal from that same Hall of Fame. It makes you wonder: When you saunter past the photos and memorabilia and bronze busts in Canton, Ohio, or the shrines to the baseball greats in Cooperstown, or any of the exhibits at any of the athletic Halls of Fame, you bear witness to the on-field superior records of these accomplished athletes, yet you are also led to believe that these individuals are beyond super athletes. Somehow you glean that they are exemplary human beings, by virtue of their honored stature as Hall of Famers.
It’s true that we have the unspoken impression that a Hall of Fame is more than a record book. OJ Simpson’s records are undeniable. More than 2,000 yards in a single season are simple numbers, measured statistics that stand as solid proof of athletic greatness. But all you have to do is listen to Hall of Fame induction speeches to learn that the greatness honored by these Halls embraces much more than on-field statistics.
Listen to Art Monk’s son’s words in introducing his father at his Hall of Fame induction: “I want people to know how great of a man he is outside of his being a football hero. He was the greatest example I had when it came to being a man that stood for something, being a man that had integrity, that he did things the right way.”
And here’s one line from John Elway’s induction speech: “My dad was the compass that guided my life and he taught me the Number One lesson of my life…always make your family proud.” Speech after speech every summer in Canton, many of them never even mentioning football, evoke God and family and honor.
It’s a quandary, walking by OJ Simpson’s Hall of Fame corner. One view people throw out is that it’s analogous to a decorated war veteran who turns to crime later in life. We can’t change history. If a soldier has bravely served, you don’t strip him or her of those medals of honor if many years later he becomes a criminal. And the administrators of these Halls of Fame insist the entry requirement is based solely on sheer athletic performance. If that were true, wouldn’t Pete Rose have been enshrined long ago? His betting on sports occurred after his playing career. The inference is that we should get it through our heads that eminence as an athlete does not equal eminence as a human being. Then what of the message we try to teach throughout youth sports on a daily basis, that it’s more than a game we’re teaching…it’s the lessons of living an honorable life.
Why does the Hall of Fame moment bring Michael Irvin and many an honoree to tears? It’s because the honor signifies more, much more, than football achievement. The Hall of Fame evokes the history, the traditions, the ethics, the brotherhood of the game. It’s not a Hall of Records. It’s deeper, richer than empirical stats and its members, although not evidently the intention of these Halls, are perceived to represent those personal qualities.
What do you think? Should character be criteria for Hall of Fame consideration? Should criminal activity, post Hall of Fame induction, disgrace an athlete out of a Hall? If you have an opinion on the subject, go to kcrw.com/thescore. We invite you to add your comments there.
Thanks for listening. This is Diana Nyad for KCRW. And that’s The Score.
Banner Image: CANTON, : Former New York Giant great and 1999 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinee Lawrence Taylor (R) pantomines placing his earring on his bronze bust at the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony beside his son and presenter Lawrence Taylor Jr (L) 07 August 1999 at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. AFP PHOTO/David MAXWELL (Photo credit should read DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)