Last August, former NFL defensive back Darren Sharper was sentenced to 18 years and four months in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting as many as 16 women in four states. The next month, the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) released its list of modern-era nominees. Darren Sharper’s name was included.
The HOF identifies its core values as “commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence,” and claims to be “not just a great museum for football … [but] a message of excellence EVERYWHERE.” The HOF Selection Committee’s decision to nominate Sharper certainly seems to be at odds with the HOF’s stated values and vision.
However, there are already many players in the HOF whose off-the-field behavior has been questionable. For example, O.J. Simpson is still enshrined in the HOF—despite his highly-publicized murder trial and subsequent incarceration for robbery and kidnapping before his induction. Marvin Harrison was involved in an attempted shooting before he was inducted.
Lawrence Taylor’s abuse of drugs and alcohol were public knowledge during his career, and he plead guilty to sexual misconduct and patronizing a prostitute after allegedly paying an underage girl $300 to engage in sexual intercourse with him. If these are the sorts of people the HOF believes spread its message of “excellence EVERYWHERE,” then how does the body define “excellence”?
In 2015—Sharper’s first year of eligibility, coinciding with his trial—sports journalist and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee Peter King sent out a series of tweets about Sharper’s HOF candidacy. He claimed that, “The bylaws of the Pro Football Hall of Fame forbid the 46 [now 48] voters from considering players’ off-field lives [during the selection process],” and concluded his series of tweets by stating, “If I said, ‘I will not consider Sharper for induction because he has been accused of multiple rapes,’ I would resign from the committee.”
According to King, the selection committee is supposed to judge players based solely on their on-field accomplishments. However, Gary Myers, another member of the committee, makes it clear that off-field-behavior can factor into its decisions if the behavior is seen as linked to players’ on-field performace. When asked by NBC Sports’ Ross Tucker why Terrell Owens—a player known for being an off-field distraction and a poor teammate—was not inducted in his first year of eligibility, Myers commented “T.O. [was] so disruptive. With L.T. [Lawrence Taylor] you don’t count the off-the-field stuff […] The argument that was made in the room, and I agreed with this, is what T.O. did in the locker room is […] an extension of [what’s inside the white lines.]”
These two members of the selection committee paint very different views of the nomination process. King claims that the committee is supposed to completely disregard players’ off-the-field behavior, while Myers states that off-the-field behavior can come into consideration when the committee believes it is linked to players’ on-the-field performance. By this logic, the HOF Selection Committee could possibly enshrine Sharper in the future, seeing as the crimes he committed occurred after his retirement—and therefore, would not have affected the performance of himself and his teammates during his career.
If the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants to send a message of “excellence EVERYWHERE,” players’ character needs to be accounted for in its nomination and selection processes. Given the recent behavior of many of its players and the controversy surrounding the sport as a whole, the idea of honoring a serial rapist is not only absurd, but offensive. The NFL should not ignore its players’ transgressions, and should certainly not reward them.