Hall of Fame Misconduct
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of watching a Harbaugh lose the Super Bowl and witnessing Ray Lewis finally call it quits. But my greatest disappointment surprisingly was not “Father” Lewis going out with another “God-willed” championship.
In what came as no surprise to many, Charles Haley was again passed over for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the Class of 2013 was announced Saturday. After spending 2010 and 2011 stuck as one of the Hall’s 15 finalists for induction — unable to survive when the list of candidates was whittled down to 10 — he made it through the 2012 and 2013 cuts up until voters settled on the five “Modern Era” players who would be approved for induction.
What distinguishes Haley from the other candidates for Hall of Fame enshrinement? He’s the only person ever to win five Super Bowl rings as a player. Not one bust currently in the Hall of Fame can claim that same achievement.
I’m no NFL insider, but isn’t winning a Super Bowl supposedly the greatest accomplishment in any NFL player’s career? Wasn’t that why Ray Lewis was crying Sunday night after the game? Trick question — the insufferable televangelist is always crying. But when you hear comparisons of great players, the discussion usually centers on championships, of which Haley won more than any other player ever.
Barry Sanders left the game because he couldn’t hoist the Lombardi trophy and the Lions wouldn’t deal him to another team to pursue his dreams elsewhere. Dan Marino has said he still thinks about having never won a ring. Both men are still in the Hall of Fame.
Clearly Sanders and Marino are two of the greatest players in NFL history and deserve to be in the Hall of Fame regardless of how many championships passed them by. But Haley has stats too. He’s one of 29 members of the 100 sacks club, squeaking by with a modest 100.5 sacks in his career, albeit one-half sack more than 2008 Hall inductee Andre Tippett.
Also notable, Haley forced 26 fumbles during his 169-game career, good for No. 32 all-time. The imposing defensive end and linebacker also produced eight fumble recoveries, two interceptions, one defensive touchdown and one safety. The five-time Pro Bowl selection recorded 10 or more sacks in six different seasons and was named first-team All Pro twice.
So if he has the numbers and the championships, why isn’t he in?
All signs point to Haley’s reputation as a depraved jerk and generally crazy person during his time in the NFL. He sexually harassed his teammates, coaching staff, team officials and media members, among others. He exposed himself to a female reporter and would reportedly masturbate everywhere, including locker rooms and film sessions. Haley berated even Hall of Fame teammate Steve Young and allegedly threw a punch at 49ers coach George Seifert. He could be verbally abusive, insubordinate and downright hateful. Not the kind of guy I’d be overjoyed about having in my locker room.
But he was one of the best players on the great 49ers and Cowboys teams of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s — I laugh as I write that the Cowboys were once a great team — and played a big part in those two franchises’ dynasties. Even taking his seemingly awful personal side into account, I believe Haley’s career warrants acceptance into the Hall of Fame.
This is my main problem with the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Voters don’t follow their own rules. Is being a jerk a sufficient reason to keep a great player out of the Hall of Fame? Should a player’s personal life come into consideration when deciding who gets the call and who doesn’t? Supposedly the bylaws say these issues should have no bearing on the voting, but some voters have admitted they often do.
The wildcard factor with Haley you won’t find on his Wikipedia page, which refers to him as “a volatile and unpredictable yet exceptionally talented and hardworking player,” is that he has bipolar disorder. Haley was a hulking 6-foot-5, 250-pound man with undiagnosed bipolar disorder in one of the world’s most aggressive and adrenaline-filled jobs. Sounds like a lovely recipe for a little tomfoolery.
I met Mr. Haley once in Harrisonburg when we were both in town for homecoming weekend at James Madison, where he was a two-time All-American and still is the all-time leading tackler. It was more than five years ago now, but I remember a kind man who let my friend and I try on his five Super Bowl rings, any one of which probably could have fit around my wrist at the time. He wasn’t an evil person, but rather a victim battling a mental illness.
I’m not saying that Haley’s disorder excuses his actions, but it certainly sheds light on some of the most erratic behavior the NFL has ever seen. He’s reportedly reached out to former teammates and NFL greats such as the late Bill Walsh, Troy Aikman, Larry Allen and Jimmy Johnson. Many of the same people Haley plagued with his off-field conduct have since voiced their opinions in favor of Haley’s entry into the Hall.
If the voters choose to omit Haley because of his past actions off the gridiron, a violation of their own precious bylaws, I would ask them to take into account two other considerations: Haley’s previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder and the backgrounds of a few other recently inducted Hall of Fame members.
The late Reggie White, one of the greatest NFL players of all time, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 despite being an unapologetically outspoken homophobe. To put that in perspective, 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver created a media firestorm last week when he stated he would not welcome a gay teammate. So did White get a pass because his play outweighed his prejudice?
Michael Irvin, inducted in 2007, had a well-known penchant for cocaine and sleeping with women who were not his wife. And according to Jeff Pearlman’s book “Boys Will Be Boys,” Irvin allegedly cut Dallas guard Everett McIver’s neck dangerously close to his carotid artery with a pair of scissors in a dispute and then paid his teammate off to avoid jail time, as he was currently on probation.
I guess what I’m asking the Hall of Fame for is some semblance of consistency. Either stick to the bylaws and only consider on-field performance, or change the rules to take off-field behavior into consideration. Voters paying lip service to the bylaws and judging the behavior of some players, while letting others slide, is inexcusable.
Haley had a colorful career to say the least, but his play and his unparalleled five shiny rings speak louder than words. Bring the man home to Canton.