For the Love of God: End the “But Let Me Tell You About the Man…” Parts of Hall of Fame Inductions
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 9, 2009
I had to watch most of the 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies for work tonight. It was kind of interesting to learn about the on-field accomplishments of all these guys, most of whom I didn’t know that much about due to not having watched football with any seriousness until very recently. But I have two main complaints. For one, all the speeches went on for way too long–they got about a one-minute introduction from the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, then a five-minute video montage of their career highlights narrated by a friend or colleague, then another ten-to-fifteen-minute introduction speech from that same friend or colleague, and then a fifteen-to-twenty-minute acceptance speech from the inductee themself. But far more grating to me was the moment that seemed to come in every speech about the new HOFers–a moment I will generally refer to in this article as the “But Let Me Tell You About the Man…” Moment.
The speeches introducing the football legends generally followed the same format. They would first list the athletic accomplishments of the HOFers–the Pro Bowl appearances, the sack or yardage totals, the end-of-year accolades, and so forth. But these honors were listed hastily, in a rote and generally unimpressed manner, as if such facts were now givens (which, in many circumstances I suppose, they actually were). Then, they would say something like “You already know about all of that stuff. But let me tell you about the man that [Hall-of-Famer] was…” They would then list the personal accomplishments of the man–devoted father, beloved husband, charitable contributor, leader and inspirer of men, that sort of thing–and conclude by saying something like “[Hall-of-Famer]’s accomplishments on the field may have been great…but it is what he did off the field that will remain as [HOFer]’s true legacy.”
Now, I don’t pretend to judge the merits of these players as human beings, or to try to weigh their real-life contributies to friends, family and community against what they did on a 100-yard-field with an oval-shaped hogshide and a lot of padding. For all I know, every one of these guys was as much of a mensch as their well-wishers tended to claim. But I’m watching this show on ESPN, not the Biography Channel. This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the Good Guy Hall of Fame. Were these guys worthwhile humans? Did they brake for animals? Did they call their parents on Mothers’ and Fathers’ day? Did they make a new pot of coffee after finishing the last one? Possibly, but these things are not really of my concern. I wanna know what made the guy a great football player. I wanna know the Pro Bowl appearances, the sack or yard totals, the end-of-year accolades. I want the stats first, the man second.
I just find it almost insulting when these guys try to pretend that the real reason that these legendary players are getting inducted into the hall of fame is because they were such gentlemanly, God-fearing good christian individuals. “Rod Woodson has never defined himself as a football player–there’s so much more to Rod Woodson than a football player,” said longtime friend and introductor Tracy Foster, before embarking upon a long spiel about how Woodson was a saint because he waited in line at restaurants. Great, Tracy, he sounds like a real nice guy–but please, just save it for his 50th birthday or his retirement party or something. If you wanna include a couple sentences about his character at the end, that’s fine, but to make it the main point of your speech is like a supervisor spending an entire performance review discussing the employee’s poor sense of humor. Ultimately, it just doesn’t matter.
Because, hey, a couple of the guys in this Hall aren’t going to be such great guys. Especially at the wide receiver position, where the most talented guys (Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, even just the disquietingly mysterious Marvin Harrison) always seem to have character issues at some point, it’s just not going to be plausible at these guys’ eventual induction ceremonies to have a coach or friend or mentor go up there and talk abou twhat a nice, giving person these guys were, how they always put the team first, and how they would be the exact same person if they never set foot on a football field. It just wouldn’t be true. And that’s OK–it’d be beyond bullshit if these guys got left out just because not many other players would necessarily be signing their yearbooks on graduation day. They were among the most skilled and accomplished players of their era, and they deserve to be honored as such.
Not that I don’t like my athletes to be nice guys. I just understand that there’s a reason why Gary Sheffield will be going to the baseball Hall of Fame, while David Eckstein will probably be snubbed for the duration of his eligibility. So if you insist on telling me about the man at these thigns, keep it brief, because to me it’s little more than an irritating tangent.