McMullen: Hero Worship is Always Unsettling at the HOF
(973espn.com) - The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend is always a difficult one for me.
On one hand as someone who has tremendous reverence for the game of football, it's an opportunity to celebrate that and the greatest players to ever lace them up. Conversely, however, it's also become a sycophant's dream where every step in Canton is immersed in hero worship.
There are very few truisms in life -- death, taxes, perhaps Otis Birdsong's jump shot, and certainly the fact that the human condition is a flawed one. So, if you plan on spending your time in devotion to anyone simply because they excelled on or around a 100x53 1/3-yard piece of turf, you are ultimately going to be disappointed.
Being based in the Philadelphia-area I've actually lost relationships with Penn State faithful who still can't handle the realization that Joe Paterno was actually a flawed man. I imagine the same kind of thing will begin to happen in and around Columbus, Ohio in the days and weeks to come.
This year's Hall of Fame ceremony brought up the feeling more than most because of the so-called main eventer, Ray Lewis, one of the greatest middle linebackers of all-time and a man who was once were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges stemming from a fight at a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta in which two men -- Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar -- were stabbed to death.
The white suit Lewis had on the night of the killings has never been recovered while Baker's blood was found inside of Lewis' limousine. Ultimately Lewis' attorneys worked out a plea agreement in which the murder charges against Lewis were dropped in exchange for his testimony against two friends he was with that night -- Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.
The end game was a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice in which Lewis admitted misleading police on the morning after the killings by claiming he wasn't at the scene. Ultimately Oakley and Sweeting were acquitted of murder charges and Lewis has never really spoken or answered questions about the incident in an adversarial environment as Sports Illustrated's Robert Klemko outlined earlier this week.
From the day of those two murders moving forward Lewis made nine more Pro Bowls, received six more All-Pro nods and won two Super Bowls (XXXV, XLVII).
Understand that this isn't an attempt to diminish Lewis' legacy in between the lines. Any Hall of Fame is essentially a museum of the sport and this one's history can't be told without a player like Lewis.
What sits in Canton isn't meant to honor anything other than that which is why someone like O.J. Simpson rightfully remains enshrined despite the dark path his life took.
Pro football HOF voters -- including Philadelphia's own Paul Domowitch -- are told not to weigh off-the-field issues when deciding who should be enshrined and that's the right way to approach these kinds of the thing.
Baseball's version of the Hall of Fame is a mess because its voters -- many of them who are incredibly uneducated in subjects like performance-enhancing drugs -- have decided they are St. Peter at the gate, dismissing the game's all-time hit leader because of an addiction and keeping the best position player and pitcher of a generation (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) out because "they cheated." Never mind the common sense application of trying to decipher how many others were cheating at the same time while those two dominated for two decades.
Imagine a fireside chat about the history of MLB where you try to erase the legacies of players like that.
History is history whether it's uncomfortable or not.
So, celebrate what the Pro Football HOF is but don't conflate it with something it's not.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen