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ESPN, NFLN should work with Hall of Famers to shorten, improve speeches


Four years ago, former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith stole the show at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony with a speech that represented a sharp and dramatic turn from his prior on-air blunders at ESPN. Emmitt worked hard to craft the right speech and to rehearse its delivery. The effort paid off with a credible, heartfelt exclamation point on his career.

On Saturday night, the exclamation points were few and far between, lost in a sea of meandering words and stiffly-read prepared text.

The first rule of public speaking is to be brief. The second rule is to be yourself. The third rule is to be brief.

Some, like Michael Strahan, were authentic. But, like the other six, the remarks went on for way too long.

Yes, these men have earned the right to filibuster through a nationally-televised broadcast, if they choose to do it. But if they want their Hall of Fame speeches to be remembered for anything other than they fact that it seemed like those speeches would never end, they need to be brief.

It’s easier said than done. Which means that the two networks who hope to translate the event into an entertaining TV show should work far more closely with the Hall of Famers to convey their thoughts and to deliver them in the most concise yet engaging way possible.

Strahan wisely acknowledged the role of the fans in making the game what it is. Fans watch football because it’s an enjoyable experience. Watching middle-aged-and-older men slip into a rambling monologue with no broader message or theme or end in sight isn’t enjoyable for anyone except the person delivering the speech.

For the Hall of Famers, it’s hard to balance sensitivity to the audience with a desire to bask in the rekindled glory of an NFL career that ended at least five years earlier (or, for some, a lot longer than that). Which means that someone needs to do it for them, coaching them and coaxing them and ultimately persuading them to: (1) be brief; (2) be themselves; and (3) be brief.

Several years ago, the Hall of Fame pulled the plug on the oft-excruciating speeches from those who present the men for enshrinement, adopting a pre-produced feature that weaves highlights and narration with words from the friend, coach, teammate, or family member. And the end result is a lot better than it used to be. The next challenge for the Hall of Fame and those who televise the ceremony becomes finding a way to make the speeches shorter and better. And shorter.