Controversy Surrounding O.J. Simpson’s Legacy in the Hall of Fame

The death of O.J. Simpson has sparked very different reactions in some circles, despite the fact that he killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman in 1994.

An item from Tim Graham of paints the contrast in jaw-dropping terms.

The Buffalo Bills did nothing to commemorate Simpson’s passing. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, in addition to issuing a lengthy statement that didn’t mention his murders, actually lowered its flag to half staff in honor of Simpson.

The Hall of Fame is a bit of an odd place, frankly. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who can make big decisions without running it by a committee where it would die until well after the moment for action passes. And the Hall of Fame’s convictions seemed to be rooted not in principles but in policies that remain rigid and inflexible, until they suddenly change for no apparent reason.

Dan Pompei of wrote an item regarding the likelihood that Simpson’s bust will remain in Canton. At this point, why wouldn’t it? If they didn’t melt it down after the murders in 1994 or the civil judgment of wrongful death that followed the inexplicable acquittal or the felony conviction that put him behind bars for nearly nine years in Nevada, there’s no reason for Simpson to be removed simply because he’s no longer alive.

Back when Simpson should have been unshrined from the Hall of Fame, nothing happened because the vibe was, basically, “Well, the bylaws don’t allow for removing anyone, so that’s that.”

If Simpson would have actually been convicted of murder, would he have been ejected? At best, there would have been a group formed to study the matter and it possibly would have gotten bogged down with politics and technicalities and concerns regarding precedent and nothing would have happened and then the world would have moved on.

The Hall of Fame usually becomes motivated to act when the topic relates to the possibility of finding a way to add busts, not remove them. Ultimately, it’s a museum that hopes to make enough money to survive and that counts on the one weekend per year in which Canton becomes the center of the NFL universe. Unless and until new Hall of Famers would pull a T.O. and refuse to show up for the festivities over the presence of someone like Simpson in the Hall of Fame, nothing will change.

The inertia of the Hall of Fame is unique to the football industry. There are 24 members of the Board of Trustees, along with an 11-person advisory board. No one can (or will) make big, sweeping, important decisions on a timely basis.

When Simpson died, no one was in place to stop the usual process of issuing a statement and dropping the flag to half staff that activates when any Hall of Famer dies. In Buffalo, in contrast, someone knew to short-circuit the usual procedure of honoring a member of the team’s Wall of Fame.

Graham’s article includes a quote given years ago by Hall of Famer Ron Yary, who played with Simpson at USC: “The thought of taking a knife and plunging it into another person that you love and care about — or even that you’re angry with — takes a hell of a lot. Even in war, to kill a person with a knife is intimate. I don’t know if there’s a harder way to kill someone. You have to be out of your mind to commit a crime like that.”

Will Simpson’s passing spark Yary or other Hall of Famers to speak out, publicly or privately, about Simpson’s ongoing presence in the Hall of Fame? Will any of the NFL owners who are on the Board of Trustees say something? Will Commissioner Roger Goodell, who also is on the Board of Trustees, spark the effort to right a wrong from three decades ago?

It’s unpopular and, in the opinion of some, unseemly to raise an issue like this following Simpson’s death. The fact, however, that the Hall of Fame did nothing when it should have makes an occasion like this a fair time to delve into the question of why the Hall of Fame so badly failed, and whether that failure can still be rectified.

Don’t count on anything happening. It’s not the Hall of Fame’s way. Even if Yary or Deion Sanders or Goodell someone else with real influence argues that Simpson should finally be ejected, the Hall of Fame’s “it was like that when I got here” approach to delicate issues will once again allow it to run out the clock without having to do something that might make someone uncomfortable.

2024-04-13 18:27:39
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