More than a decade ago, an injury to receiver Terrell Owens forced a change to the rules of the NFL. Now, an insult to T.O. could force a change to the rules of the HOF.
Per multiple sources, the Hall of Fame currently is considering a requirement that candidates for enshrinement commit to showing up for the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony before the selection committee makes its final choices.
As one source explained it, the issue became a hot topic on Friday in Canton. During the annual Ray Nitschke luncheon, attended only by members of the Hall of Fame, most strongly disagreed with Terrell Owens’ decision to boycott the weekend’s festivities. Some supported Owens. Most if not all agreed that it is important to stop Owens’ boycott of the ceremony from becoming a trend.
The Hall of Famers want advance screening of the candidates along with a commitment that they will show up. The plan, as another source put it, would consist of having the 25 semifinalists sign an agreement that they would show up if selected. It’s currently believed that the adjustment to the procedures is virtually certain to happen.
Three obvious questions arise. First, what happens if the semifinalist refuses to sign the document? Presumably, the person automatically would not become one of the 15 finalists, thereby preventing the members of the selection committee from voting the candidate in.
Second, what happens if the person signs the document, wins enshrinement, and then doesn’t show up? Would the Hall of Famer be replaced by an alternate, or would the bronze bust still be added to the Hall of Fame in the new enshrinee’s absence?
Third, and perhaps most importantly, is the Hall of Fame willing to change its bylaws to permit consideration for induction to stray beyond events and dynamics unrelated to the candidate’s football career? If an inclination to not attend the ceremony becomes a factor in keeping someone out of Canton, what about other things that are supposedly off limits when it comes to screening Hall of Famers?
The best approach could be to regard the T.O. situation as a once-in-318 aberration and to continue with the same rules that otherwise would have been applied. Indeed, Owens didn’t show up, but he’s still a Hall of Famer. It wouldn’t be fair to any other potential Hall of Famer to apply a different set of rules.
It also would be wrong to ignore Owens’ overriding point: He was indeed passed over, not once but twice, for reasons unrelated to his accomplishments. The fact that Owens and Randy Moss generally are regarded as the second- and third-, or third- and second-, best receivers of all time behind Jerry Rice coupled with the fact that Moss got in on the first try proves that Owens also should have gotten in on the first try.
So instead of creating a litmus test that violates the letter and spirit of the Hall of Fame’s bylaws for enshrinement, the current members of the Hall of Fame should instead recognize the merit of T.O.'s argument and consider revamping the selection process to ensure that another first-ballot Hall of Famer isn’t made to wait for reasons other than the things he did on the field.