Following an event during a recent Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, I spoke for a while with a member of the HOF’s board of directors. We compared notes on which Hall of Famers had returned for the annual festivities — the Hall has begun a tradition of inviting all back each year — and discussed why some inductees don’t return.
This board member felt strongly that those non-returnees were showing a lack of gratitude to the NFL and the Hall by their absence. He felt they “owed” both institutions because these players wouldn’t be everything they are and have everything they do if it weren’t for pro football.
I am a huge football fan. My dad started taking me to Browns and Hall of Fame games when I was still in elementary school — and that’s been a while, but we won’t go there. Anyway, as much as I love pro football, I am not a fan of everything the NFL does, especially the way it has handled, or mishandled, the retired players’ pension issues. Talk about owing someone something –who actually built the NFL into the sports powerhouse it is today? The players maybe? The NFL and NFL Players Association (NFLPA) should show the same loyalty to those pioneers as the HOF board member thinks the players should show the NFL.
The players who honor their induction into the Hall of Fame by returning are really honoring those who came before them, those who played with them, and the game itself. And those are the real reasons they should return to Canton each year. But I agree it would be nice to see more Hall of Famers come back. Maybe when the NFL starts treating its former players with some respect and compassion, they will return the favor.