Terrell Owens has a point. In his Hall of Fame speech, given at the University of Chattanooga, during his own, unprecedented off-site ceremony, Owens described the process that delayed his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame like this:
“It’s about the mere fact that the sports writers are not in alignment with the mission and core values of the Hall of Fame. These writers disregarded the system, criteria, and by-laws by which guys are inducted, and ultimately the true meaning of the Hall of Fame, and what it represents.”
Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated followed Owens around this weekend, and reported an anecdote about Owens touring the Hall of Fame with his friend Doug Sanders, back in March, when he first developed the feeling that joining the official ceremonies in Canton wasn’t for him:
He and Sanders toured the grounds, seeing his jersey from a 2000 contest against Chicago, when he set the single-game league record with 20 receptions. They soaked in the history, as their guide listed the Hall’s five values: commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence. Owens turned to Sanders. “That’s interesting because those don’t align with what happened to me at all,” he said.
It’s assumed that what kept Owens—a five-time first-team All-Pro; the NFL’s second all-time leader in regular season receiving yards; and eighth all-time in receptions—from being inducted during his first two years of eligibility came down to character concerns. That’s obviously insane and ridiculous, for reasons that shouldn’t require any more establishing than simply pointing out the fact that Marvin Harrison probably killed a guy, and also Michael Irvin is in there.
What’s obnoxious is the inevitable conclusion that Hall of Fame voters are changing their criteria each year, adding and subtracting unwritten criteria as needed in order to ensure that all the right people eventually get into the Hall, but only under certain specific conditions. Denying Owens entry for two years was inescapably about qualifying his eventual induction—he was good enough to get in, but less good enough to get in than these other guys. Some number of asshole NFL writers who knew Owens belonged in the Hall of Fame a few years ago withheld their votes, in order to send a message about his character and downgrade the honor of his inclusion.
But that’s not how it’s supposed to work! Now that Terrell Owens is in the Hall of Fame, he is a Hall of Famer, which, now that it’s done, seems like the most obvious thing in the world. He was one of the very greatest receivers in the history of the sport! He played a playoff game on a broken leg! He is as obvious a Hall of Famer as anyone in the damn Hall of Fame, but he’s only getting in now because some number of sportswriters wanted to make sure guys like Harrison got in first. It’s insulting! It’s meant to insult.
When you think of selectors arbitrarily changing the rules of a process in order to exclude someone whose accomplishments very obviously warrant inclusion, probably “integrity” is nowhere near the list of words that come to mind. At any rate, here is Owens’s speech, which is far less angry and unhinged than you may have been expecting: