NFL Hall of Fame election process is busted

I SPENT MUCH of my childhood dreaming of getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I used to practice my induction speech in front of my mother.

It's killing me to watch the prestige of sports' most important hall of fame get diminished year after year as borderline candidates slip into a Hall best left reserved for the best of the best.

Let me first congratulate Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle and Dick LeBeau, the four legitimate and deserving inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And let me also apologize to Shannon Sharpe, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, the three legitimate and deserving candidates who were passed over by Hall voters Saturday.

Let me explain to you why there is virtually no media debate or criticism of football hall of fame candidates and the selection process that resulted in non-deserving Floyd Little, Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson gaining entry.

Think about it. There are two halls of fame that really matter in professional sports - baseball and football. Every year, hard-core baseball writers and broadcasters engage in a spirited debate about who belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. You'll read passionate columns blasting the candidacy of accomplished baseball players. You'll see sports writers on TV making arguments for and against a pitcher such as Bert Blyleven.

You get almost none of that in football. Why?

Everyone has a vote in baseball, so everyone feels empowered to speak their mind. A small group of handpicked selectors - 44 - of varying degrees of qualifications choose who goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That group pretty much pledges not to criticize one another publicly. And the sports writers who are not among that group and someday hope to be realize they better not offer a word of criticism.

It's an un-American process. It's a journalistically unsound process. It's a cowardly process. It's a process that, if practiced by the institutions journalists allegedly cover, would have newspaper editors joining Sarah Palin at the national Tea Party.

It's a process - in these economically tough times - ripe for corruption. It's a process that mostly serves the egos of the selectors.

They live for the "shout-outs," when a newly inducted player publicly thanks them for his induction into the Hall.

The process has little integrity. Pro football players know this. They don't respect the process. They privately lament the fact that people - some of whom don't even have a layman's understanding of a complex game - they don't respect pass final judgment on their careers. New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson was the first football player to whine his way into the Hall of Fame.

I'm not suggesting that players and coaches should decide who gets in the Hall of Fame. If you watched the NFL Network, which carried Saturday's announcement, you realized that former players have no interest in offering an objective opinion about their peers. Rod Woodson, Michael Irvin and Steve Young seemed to be campaigning for a class of 50 inductees.

For those of you who hate the media, watch a replay of the NFL Network's coverage and ask yourself if you prefer the fawning, clueless analysis offered up by Woodson, Irvin and Young.

What we can all agree on is the process needs to be fixed. It's broken.