Football’s Irreconcilable Differences

By Jason Whitlock
Updated: February 7, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — I spent much of my childhood dreaming of getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I used to practice my induction speech in front of my mother.

It’s absolutely killing me to watch the prestige of sports’ most important hall of fame get diminished year after year as borderline candidates slip into a Hall best left reserved for the best of the best.

Let me first congratulate Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle and Dick LeBeau, the four legitimate and deserving inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And let me also apologize to Shannon Sharpe, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, the three legitimate and deserving candidates who were passed over by Hall voters Saturday afternoon.

OK, let me do one more thing before I explain to you why Floyd Little, Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson have no business with a bust in Canton, Ohio. Let me explain to you why there is virtually no media debate or criticism of football hall of fame candidates and the selection process.

Think about it.

There are two halls of fame that really matter in professional sports — baseball and football. Every year, hardcore baseball writers and broadcasters engage in a spirited debate about who does and doesn’t belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

You’ll read passionate columns blasting the candidacy of accomplished baseball players. You’ll see sports writers on TV making arguments for and against a pitcher such as Bert Blyleven.

You get almost none of that in football. Why?

Everyone has a vote in baseball, so everyone feels empowered to speak their mind. A small group of handpicked selectors — 44 — of varying degrees of qualifications choose who goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That group pretty much pledges not to criticize each other publicly. And the sports writers who are not among that group and someday hope to be realize they better not offer a word of criticism.

It’s an un-American process. It’s a journalistically unsound process. It’s a cowardly process. It’s a process that if practiced by the institutions journalists allegedly cover would have newspaper editors joining Sarah Palin at the national Tea Party.

It’s a process — in these economically tough times — ripe for corruption. It’s a process that mostly serves the egos of the selectors.

They live for the “shout-outs,” when a newly inducted player publicly thanks them for his induction into the Hall.

The process has very little real integrity. Pro football players know this.

They don’t respect the process. They privately lament the fact that people — some of whom don’t even have a layman’s understanding of a complex game — they don’t respect pass final judgment on their careers. New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson was the first football player to whine his way into the Hall of Fame.

I’m not suggesting that players and coaches should decide who gets in the Hall of Fame. If you watched the NFL Network, which carried Saturday’s announcement, you realized that former players have no interest in offering an objective opinion about their peers. Rod Woodson, Michael Irvin and Steve Young seemed to be campaigning for a class of 50 inductees.

For those of you who hate the media, watch a replay of the NFL Network’s coverage and ask yourself if you prefer the fawning, clueless analysis offered up by Woodson, Irvin and Young.

What we can all agree on is the process needs to be fixed. It’s broken.

Rather than picking the best four or five candidates each year, the selection group seems to be focused on correcting “perceived” mistakes.

Russ Grimm? Are you kidding me? Take away “The Hogs” nickname and Grimm never sniffs the Hall of Fame. He was a very good player on some great Washington teams. So what? Nate Newton was a dominant player for a longer period of time and won just as many Super Bowls.

Rickey Jackson? He was a very good outside linebacker for the New Orleans Saints throughout the 1980s. When hall of fame voters picked the all-decade team for the 1980s, Jackson didn’t receive one vote. You know who did? Carl Banks and John Anderson. Banks and Anderson aren’t going to the hall of fame.

The hall of fame senior committee selected Floyd Little, his 6,300 yards and 3.9-yard average over nine years.

Little never played a postseason game. Larry Johnson (6,200, 4.4) is likely to finish with better numbers.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is becoming a bad joke. Shannon Sharpe won two Super Bowls in Denver and was the key addition that allowed Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens defense to win a Super Bowl. Sharpe retired as the most prolific pass-catching tight end of all time.

Next year, Deion Sanders, Willie Roaf and Marshall Faulk will be on the ballot. They are no-brainers. Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin have first-ballot resumes.

The maximum allowed in is five modern players and two senior inductees.

In other words, at least three modern players — Bettis, Martin, Sharpe, Carter or Brown — are going to be disappointed again.