January 05, 2009
Cris Collinsworth broached the idea on Saturday that former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Tillman, of course, gave up the lucrative remainder of his playing career to join the Army Rangers in combat in Afghanistan. He was killed by friendly fire.
Whether or not Tillman is a remarkable human being isn't up for debate. Whether or not he belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though, is another issue entirely.
As a player, he just doesn't qualify. He was a good safety, but not a great one. He never made a Pro Bowl. On on-field merits alone, there's just not a case to be made for him. If he'd had a 12-year career instead of a four-year career, who knows what he might have accomplished? But that's not what happened.
So is there room in the Hall of Fame for a guy who falls short on on-field accomplishments, but makes up for it by being an outstanding individual?
For this, we'd have to consult the official Pro Football Hall of Fame criteria, and that's either really hard to find or intentionally vague. The website goes into detail about the selection process and who decides what, but they don't reveal exactly what they're supposed to decide on. The closest they come to defining anything is in the opening sentence of the Selection Process page:
Charged with the vital task of continuing to be sure that new enshrinees are the finest the game has produced is the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 36-man Board of Selectors.
Obviously, "the finest the game has produced" is extremely vague. Traditionally, the vote has been about what a player has produced on the field, and not what kind of person he was off of it. O.J. Simpson's in the Hall of Fame, and there's been no great movement to get him out.
There are also a lot of really great guys who aren't in the Hall of Fame. There's even a guy, Bob Kalsu, who was named the Buffalo Bills rookie of the year in 1968, entered the Army in 1969, and was killed in Vietnam in 1970 at the age of 25. Kalsu is not in the Hall of Fame.
It boils down to the question of whether or not you think the Hall of Fame is to honor great people, and not just great players. And while the Hall's official criteria appear to leave it open to do just that, I still don't know if I'd support the idea.
If the NFL were to enshrine Pat Tillman in the Hall of Fame, they'd be making the statement that Tillman made a great contribution to the game of football. Personally, when I think about Pat Tillman and what he did, it doesn't occur to me that he made a great contribution to the game of football. He made a great contribution to his country and to his family.
About the Hall of Fame ... I wouldn't object if he were enshrined. I won't object if he isn't. His being or not being in the Hall of Fame won't change the way I think of him. In fact, in that context, whether or not he's a Hall of Famer seems extremely insignificant. I won't trivialize him by arguing about it.
To me, it's not like arguing, for example, that Art Monk deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. For Monk, maybe Hall enshrinement validates his performance as a wide receiver and his place in the pantheon of the game's greats. As an Art Monk fan, I care about whether or not he made it into the Hall of Fame.
But as someone who watched Pat Tillman do what he did, I absolutely do not care if he's enshrined in the Hall of Fame or not. What he did requires no validation. I don't care about his status among the game's greats. What Tillman earned, and what he'll always have, is a spot in most people's hearts as a remarkably selfless man who saw more to life than football.
And that means infinitely more than a pale yellow jacket and a bronze bust in Ohio.
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