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Column: NFL, Hall of Fame continue to exert plantation approach on players

Former wide receiver Terrell Owens forms the letter "T" after he delivered his NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame speech on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Instead of speaking at the Hall of Fame festivities in Canton, Ohio, Owens celebrated his induction at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he played football and basketball and ran track. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

WASHINGTON — The NFL just can’t stay out of its own way.

The league that resuscitated the dead national anthem controversy and continues to make convoluted rules changes is on the verge of needlessly creating another flash point of conflict with its players.

Profootballtalk.com has reported (and then reconfirmed, after some public pushback) that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is considering a requirement that Hall candidates submit a written commitment to attend the enshrinement ceremony before they’re even officially voted in.

Here’s the key excerpt from the PFT post:

“As one source explained it, the issue became a hot topic on Friday in Canton. During the annual Ray Nitschke luncheon, attended only by members of the Hall of Fame, most strongly disagreed with Terrell Owens’ decision to boycott the weekend’s festivities. Some supported Owens. Most if not all agreed that it is important to stop Owens’ boycott of the ceremony from becoming a trend.

The Hall of Famers want advance screening of the candidates along with a commitment that they will show up. The plan, as another source put it, would consist of having the 25 semifinalists sign an agreement that they would show up if selected. It’s currently believed that the adjustment to the procedures is virtually certain to happen.”

Before I delve into this further, it’s important to emphasize that the NFL and the Pro Football Hall of Fame are, in actuality, separate entities. However, look at the Hall’s board of trustees. While separate, their interests are definitely aligned.

Aside from the morally corrupt act of granting Hall admittance based on compliance, this is yet another example of pro football taking exception to black men exerting their rights in a way they don’t like.

It’s not a race thing, you say? Yes, it is. Think back to 2007, when Joe Thomas was selected third overall in the NFL Draft. Do you remember when he shook hands with Commissioner Roger Goodell and received a shiny, new Cleveland Browns jersey?

You don’t. Because Thomas — a white, offensive tackle from the University of Wisconsin — was on a fishing boat with this father that day, rather than being one of the league’s “free actors.” I have yet to see slam pieces on him, or see the NFL put a rule in place that forces the highest draft prospects to attend.

This is basically an extension of the anthem controversy. Owens has rightly called out the flawed and broken voting process, and did so at a time and place inconvenient for the league. There’s no evidence that Owens’ stance is anything more than an isolated occurrence borne of “T.O. being T.O.” yet here’s a group — mainly comprised of white, sanctimonious NFL owners — overreacting with some ham-handed attempt at keeping outspoken black men in line. And these are men who are retired from the league — the NFL has no agency over them.

Here’s what they’ve lost sight of: The Hall of Fame is a museum, not a country club. This is supposed to be a place for fans to learn about pro football’s past, and in theory, each of those enshrined should be a key character in the story of pro football.

That story can’t be told without Owens. Even Jason Pierre-Paul can count on one hand how many receivers have better numbers than Owens, and there’s no debating whether his on-field production is Hall-worthy. The only reason he was forced to wait three years beyond his eligibility because of the notion that he was a divisive force on his teams.

You know who else was a divisive force? Brett Favre. Lost in his rugged country charm was an interception machine who spent his last half-decade in Green Bay mulling retirement and undermining the start of Aaron Rodgers’ career before and after he forced his comeback. Favre would then go on to derail the New York Jets’ 2008 season with 22 picks and a sexting scandal, and blow Minnesota’s best chance at a Super Bowl with one of the most mindnumbingly terrible interceptions I’ve ever seen.

But Favre was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, celebrated as an old gunslinger. No one said otherwise.

Personally, I didn’t much like Owens as a player, and I believe the words he spoke in Chattanooga would have best been said in Canton. But his plea for the Hall to do some long overdue soul searching is correct. Because if this ridiculous requirement is enacted, the 2018 Hall of Fame weekend will be remembered more for pro football’s plantation owner approach to its athletes of color than who did or didn’t attend the ceremonies.


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