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Mazurek: Owens deserved more consideration for Hall of Fame

| Wednesday, March 8, 2017

If you ask anyone what the greatest individual honor a professional athlete can earn is, vedst will say a spot in their sport’s hall of fame.

And I would agree. Just the name itself is regal and impressive. It’s the hall of fame, not the room of pretty good players.

And because it’s so prestigious, selection into halls of fame is fought with debate and, on occasion, controversy.

And controversy reared its ugly, yet oh-so-compelling, head in early February when wide receiver Terrell Owens was not elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Fellow columnist Daniel O’Boyle argued in his column two weeks ago that Owens got snubbed, and I generally agree with him. Owens’ statistics are simply too good for him to be left out.

However, I’m not here to argue why Owens should be let in. I’d rather examine why he got left out.

There are many who have argued that Owens was left out of the Hall because of his antics in the locker room and in the press. As one voter pointed out, it’s rare for a Hall of Fame player to bounce around to five different teams because his attitude makes him so difficult to work with.

Yes, Owens was no saint in the locker room, but neither were a lot of players already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and other halls of fame. Heck, Dennis Rodman made the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and he actively supports the totalitarian North Korean government. Owens may not be well-liked, but he isn’t Kim Jong Il. Is that really why he didn’t get voted in?

No. The reason Owens got snubbed was his relationship with the media.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame — and for almost every other hall of fame — members of the media control who gets in. For the NFL, the 48-member selection committee is entirely made up of sports writers and broadcasters.

And while reporters in all areas of journalism pride themselves on remaining objective, bias slips in. And that is exactly what happened to Owens.

Owens consistently had a poor relationship with the media, who constantly blamed him for every locker room that exploded while he was there. Numerous reporters disliked his flashy style and touchdown celebrations. Granted, Owens did nothing to calm the fire. In fact, after getting snubbed, Owens posted to Twitter a picture of himself wearing a Hall of Fame coat with his career statistics on the back.

The question is: Did that bias affect the voters on the committee?

You bet it did. One voter, Jim Trotter, said publicly that the vote against Owens “felt personal.” That’s because it was. The media’s disdain for Owens showed, and it robbed an all-time great of a well-deserved honor.

Unfortunately for the perceived sanctity of halls of fame, Owens isn’t alone.

In the Baseball Hall of Fame, an even bigger slugfest of media bias is going on over the likes of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.

To be clear, Clemens and Bonds are very different from Owens: They have both allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs, and while I believe Owens should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I do not think Bonds and Clemens should be voted into baseball’s equivalent. What is important to note, though, is how media bias affects whether or not steroid-using players will make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In their first year on the ballot in 2013, Clemens and Bonds received 38 and 37 percent of the the votes, respectively, fairly short of the 75 percent needed to make it in. Over the next two years, both players’ percentages stayed even in the upper 30s, but in 2016, Clemens’ shot up to 52 percent, while Bonds’ increased to 45 percent. What changed?

What changed was actually the voters themselves. In 2015, the Baseball Hall of Fame changed its voting policy so that only card-holding members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who have covered a game within the last 10 years have a ballot. This move shoved out a lot of older members of the media who came from a pre-steroid era. The remaining voters were all reporters during Clemens and Bonds’ careers. Many covered the huge successes of these players, and the voting numbers prove that these younger writers do not care as much about the steroid issues surrounding players like Bonds and Clemens.

It’s a shame to see athletes being refused the greatest individual honor in sports because they didn’t get along with the media. Just as it will be shame to see Bonds and Clemens reach the Hall simply because a newer generation of reporters doesn’t seem to care about the integrity of the game.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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