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Hall of Fame: An Exercise in Subjectivity

Should the Hall of Fame be about recognizing individuals based on a seemingly arbitrary set of qualifications, or honoring the history of the game and those who impacted it?

Football Hall of Fame in HDR by JW Ogden is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Hall of Fame: An Exercise in Subjectivity


Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Whenever I pop into our Slack for the site, there’s inevitably a debate going on about whether or not an athlete should be enshrined in their respective sport’s Hall of Fame. In fact, the frequency and vehemence of the debates got so overwhelming that I went ahead and created a Hall of Fame channel in our Slack, just so there’d be a singular place to argue with each other.

Our most recent case in point? Matthew Stafford. The dude has barely finished his trip to Disneyland and we’re yelling “is he?” or “isn’t he?” at each other already. Last I checked, there was no mention of him retiring either. And, depending on what happens with his Super Bowl winning teammates in terms of retirement (Whitworth, Donald, etc.) or re-signing (OBJ, Miller, etc.) he has a great chance at going back to the promised land. All of this makes me wonder why we’re debating this NOW instead of when he’s finished hurling the ball all over the field. But I digress. Since we are taking sides, I choose the side of “you’re both right”.

I’m not going to get into the cases FOR or AGAINST Stafford. My colleagues have already done that legwork. Instead, I’d like to use their arguments to show why I could care less about an actual Hall of Fame.

Moving Targets

Both of our Stafford pieces reference his stats while making their cases. Perhaps my biggest problem with Halls of Fame, in general, is the lack of a statistical baseline upon which to determine eligibility. Sure, the sports typically have “benchmark achievements” that will help make or break a player’s case. Just look at the Stafford debate. In both pieces, statistical citations are used to bolster each writer’s argument about why they’re right. But overall (to the best of my knowledge) there isn’t a hard and fast set of statistics that guarantees a player gets in. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, just that it is a fact. It certainly makes sense given how sports evolve over time. Whether it’s because of technological advances, the physical abilities of the athletes, or changes to the rules of the sport – the only thing constant is change.

But It’s a Team Sport

Individual accolades in a team sport can be tough. Sure – at the end of a particular season, leagues typically dole out recognition for outstanding performances. That makes sense to me. When you back out to the wider angle and discuss an individual’s Hall-worthiness in playing a team sport, things can get trickier.

Sure – there are “no doubt” cases, athletes whose capabilities and achievements leave everyone in awe. But that’d only be the “top 1%” (to borrow a term from another part of life). For the rest of the athletes, they’re left to hope and dream that the stars align and they’re given their golden ticket.

Take a QB (say, Matthew Stafford) who has great passing stats. Does he obtain those stats purely on his own? No – he needs receivers to catch the passes. What about offensive linemen to protect him long enough to get those passes to those receivers? What if they don’t have a running game that’s good enough to soften the coverage and help the receivers get open? How about a defense that stymies the opponent and allows him to get back on the field to have more chances to rack up those stats?

To be sure, they all contributed to each other’s individual stats in some way, no? After all, Stafford spent a dozen years with the Detroit Lions, ultimately winning bubkus. He gets traded to the LA Rams and in one year climbs to the top of the mountain. That, to me, certainly indicates the impact of the TEAM on any one individual.

Outside the Lines

Clearly, there’s plenty of debate to be had about an athlete’s performance ON the field. The other facet of the equation (which tends to muddy the waters even further) involves the life an athlete leads OFF the field. Each of the four “major sports” (baseball, football, basketball, hockey) has its own Hall of Fame. They all have a select group of folks who are ultimately the gatekeepers – deciding who to let in or who to shut out. Whether or not it’s explicitly stated, consideration is given to a player’s standing in society as well. But should a person’s off-field reputation be a determining factor? Much like the evolution of each sport over time and the evolution of the athletes who play those sports – the opinions regarding off-field issues are always changing as well.

The Debate Is the Point

If you were to visit any of these Halls of Fame you’d see that they’re also museums. Each is a living homage to its respective sport, recounting the history of the sport as well as telling the tales of those who played it. And isn’t that the more important aspect of all of this? Whether it’s the legacy of your hometown franchise or the career highlights of your favorite player, (who may never even be in the HOF conversation), it’s that history that enables the sport(s) to live on. Sure – we should absolutely recognize contributions to the sports – be they by individual accomplishment, team achievement, or simply a lasting impression on fans. But do we need to hand out gold jackets or plaques to a select few to help carry on the love of the sports we’ve come to know and love?

Maybe they should all be “Museums of Fame”? Nah, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it I suppose.

Joe is an actor who grew up eating, living and breathing sports. He spent many an afternoon on the soccer or baseball field in his youth (and even gave several other sports a shot) before a series of events put him on the path to pursuing a performing career. Subsequently, he's worked almost every other type of job you could imagine while trying to support that endeavor. Whenever he's not working any of those jobs, he can often be found watching, playing or discussing sports in some way. Most of that banter revolves around the Mets, Giants, Rangers or Manchester United. His short term goal is to fully convert his fiance into a rabid sports fan, not someone who leaves the room whenever he turns a game on.

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