An abridged ceremony, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, was held in Cooperstown, N.Y. on September 8, when baseball players Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and players’ labor leader Marvin Miller were inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
As usual, the ceremony received major positive coverage, as do induction ceremonies for all sports Hall of Fames. In recent years, more than an athlete’s statistics have been considered for inclusion into the Halls. But that was not always so.
Sports Halls of Fame are filled with athletes whose status as heroes are, at best, dubious because of their off-the-field actions.
Conduct that would affect the careers of nonathletes, like me and most of my former sports writing and sports marketing PR colleagues, are excused by the sports moguls as long as the athlete can help a team.
The distressing aspect about the Halls of Fame is that they would be meaningless structures without the cooperation of many sports journalists, who unlike the great majority of none sports businesses and political journalists act as cheer leaders for the multi-billion dollars sports business.
Halls of Fames are a growth business in the United States. If they were listed on the New York Stock Exchange they would get continuous “buy” recommendations from financial advisors because they are always getting new inventory popular with sports fanatics and massive free positive publicity from the media.
But unlike the Shakespeare’s quote that, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones,” the entrance to the Halls of Fames should be inscribed with, “The good stats that men do lives after them; the evil is oft interred with their bones.” Of course in the case of sports Halls of Fame inductees, the deciders of “good” are individuals whose livelihoods are dependent on sports. That often means the warts of inductees that would disqualify individuals from receiving honors in the civilian world are often overlooked in the sports universe.
There are numerous sports Halls of Fames. What’s messing is a “Sports History Hall of Shame.” Past and current happenings show that there are many candidates for inclusion, some now in the sanctioned official Halls. The inscription on the entrance to the “Sports History Hall of Shame.” should be, with apologies to Cole Porter, “Most Anything Goes.”
The “Sports History Hall of Shame.” would be divided into various corridors:
The Foul Play Corridor
This would feature the athletes from all sports who have been caught breaking the rules of their sport. A few examples, pitchers who have “doctored” baseballs; batters who have used illegal bats; football coaches who secretly taped other teams practices; quarterbacks who used under inflated footballs, and performers of all sports who have been caught using PEDs of various sorts (that are probably used by the great majority of athletes). Also included would be examples of “gamesmanship,” which Meriam-Webster defines as, “the art or practice of winning games by questionable expedients without actually violating the rules, or the use of ethically dubious methods to gain an objective.”
The Hypocrite Wing
Over the entrance to this chamber would be, in solid gold, an engraving saying, “We honor owners of National Football League, and Major League Baseball teams who have had run-ins with the law, along with other moguls of sports who allow health-adverse products on team telecasts that are welcomed by the television networks on whose broadcasts these harmful products are promoted regardless of the age of the viewing audience.
Of course, the following corridor would be the largest of the “Sports History Hall of Shame” with five chambers.
1 – The Con Artist Hall
This would feature all the quotes from the owners of teams and league commissioners, who over the decades tried, and still try, to camouflage their businesses as just a sport; also all the athletes who act like they’re really knowledgeable about the products they endorse. And the hypocrisy of the international sports moguls who, with money provided by their “proud sponsors” accomplices, promote Olympic and other sporting events to be played in any country that comes up with enough money, and even more shamefully awards them to totalitarian countries that are devoid of human rights. Prime Examples: Russia, China, Nazi Germany.
2 – The Extortion Corridor
You don’t have to be a fan of mob movies to witness shakedowns. Just read the sports pages, and based on history you’ll learn how the owners of major sport franchises use shakedowns that are within the law: (Gamesmanship at its zenith?) “Build us a new stadium or we’ll move; give us tax abatements or we’ll move; give us whatever we want or we’ll move.” Perhaps the most famous shakedown occurred in 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants dug up their roots and transplanted them in California. The impetus for the move was when New York parks commissioner Robert Moses refused Dodger owner Walter O’Malley’s “take it or we’ll leave” ultimatum to build a new stadium in downtown Brooklyn, which would have also cost taxpayers millions of dollars. Once the Dodgers decided to move, the Giants followed. (Personally, I think it was a conspiracy.) An analysis by Bloomberg, in 2012, revealed that 22 National Football League teams were playing in tax-exempt debt and 64 baseball, basketball and hockey teams played in arenas that were built using the bonds. The most recent research on the subject that I was able to find was that the Chicago Cubs, in 2013, threatened to move after being refused tax dollars for a ballpark renovation. Of course, there have been more recent relocations. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “extortion” as, “The practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.” Hmm.
3 – The Totalitarian Hall
This sector would be devoted to members of the International Olympic Committee who continuously degrade the world’s most important sporting event by awarding the games to totalitarian countries devoid of human rights and other freedoms. Sharing a prominent place in this corridor would be FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, and other international sports federations, along with photos of dictators who use the games as a PR tool.
4 – The Cover-Up Sector
This corridor would include both on-the-field personnel and front office executives. A special “dishonorable actions” display would be devoted to the National Football League that for year’s tried to cover-up that the fact that the celebratory “hard hits” caused brain damage, death and other life-altering events to players, as well as trying to smear the reputation of prestigious scientists whose research confirmed the dangers of football. Adjacent to the NFL display, would be one regarding how for many years Major League Baseball officials tried to cover-up the use of PEDs and when it was exposed threw the players under the bus.
5 – The Gambling Corridor
This would include four sections: One for athletes, like the Chicago White Sox players who were accused of purposely losing the 1919 World Series, and another for more modern day baseball, basketball and football players accused of betting. The NBA betting scandals of the 2000s would be featured along with numerous college basketball scandals. The third section would be devoted to the NFL commissioner and team owners who said for years that they wouldn’t permit a franchise in Las Vegas, until they got an offer they couldn’t refuse. Also, the leagues and team owners who have invested in TV sports gambling businesses. The most up-to-date display, in a sector with a Las Vegas-like theme with glitzy lighting, will be named the
“How To Lose Your Money While At Home.” It is devoted to the latest gambling innovations, which will permit fans to wager on individual happenings – like whether a quarterback will pass or hand-off or if a batter will get a hit or strike out. The combinations of different happenings are countless, and TV viewers are able to bet in real time while guzzling alcoholic beverages that sponsor the teams.
Of course, to be complete, any “Sports History Hall of Shame.” must contain a wing for the sports media, without whose help sports could not continue to be the opioid of so many people. Thus…
The Press Box
This corridor is shared by four types of reporters: 1 – the ones that act as PR people for teams, especially during baseball’s spring training or football’s college draft by heralding unproven newcomers the next coming of Babe Ruth or Joe Montana and by reporting statements by players, managers, and team owners as if what they were saying was actually newsworthy. 2- Reporters who for generations covered up the transgressions of ball players. 3 – The relatively new practice of sports journalists acting as fans and openly rooting for teams they cover instead of providing objective reporting and 4 – Reporters who have, and still do, turn a blind eye to the evils of sports – like concussions of football, the abusive treatment of thoroughbred horses, the National Hockey League’s refusing to admit that playing the “game” is dangerous, to name a few.
Sports Marketing Brands and PR People
Adjacent to The Press Box corridor will be one detailing the many U.S. brands that have financed international sporting events in despotic countries; that have positioned athletes as hawkers of products despite the athletes lack of knowledge about them, along with league, team and sports marketing PR people, who like sheep follow the scripts handed to them by those who pay their salaries.
The Blame Game
Too big to house all in one corridor, The Blame Game will be located in a stand-a-alone annex the size of the Library of Congress. It is devoted to all the team owners and their general managers who, because of their ineptness in securing winning talent, blame managers and coaches for losing seasons. (The idea for “The Blame Game” annex was suggested by a committee composed of high-ranking none sports PR executives and account agency supervisors, who have for generations been blaming innocent low level employees for accounts going sour, when the fault lies with the lack of ability of their supervisors to provide the necessary help.)
But, perhaps, the most shameful of all the corridors in the “Sports History Hall of Shame” would be shared by league and team executives, advertising execs and the TV networks and local stations that permit TV commercials promoting gambling and drinking during telecasts of games during the hours when many are watched by impressionable youngsters. The entrance to this corridor would have a huge fluorescent sign reading “Bet and Drink Responsibly,” companioned by a smaller sign in agate size font saying “We Don’t Mean It.” (Listening to some baseball sports programming makes me wonder if betting odds have replaced batting averages and earned runs as the most important stats. But the soon to begin football, basketball and hockey seasons will offer wagering opportunities conducive to those sports.)
The Still To Come Corridor
For the time being, this corridor would remain empty while waiting the arrival of hypocritical and criminal actions by the sports community that are so disturbing that we can’t imagine what they will be until they occur.
As might be evident from this column, I’m a bit jaundiced about the actual Halls of Fames, which in reality are nothing more than publicity gimmicks for sports leagues, and more recently for individual teams that have created their own Halls of Fame.
Sports writers, and others associated with the sports family, can nominate athletes to be enshrined even though they never saw them hit a curve ball or sink a last second three-pointer. Many vote from reading record books or hearing handed-down tales and fables, even though the games have dramatically changed over the years, as has the tools of the trade like fielder’s gloves, the distances to hit a home run, the length of the seasons, protective football and hockey equipment, tennis rackets, the size of the athletes, and the nutrition and the scientific training that modern day athletes receive and that are still being improved upon as I write this.
Also, to say that only what happens on the playing fields should be considered during Hall of Fames voting permits athletes who have committed unsportsmanlike acts to be venerated as heroes. There are too many people in Halls that should not be considered for any museum that celebrates heroes.
As New York Mets announcers Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez said on an August 29 telecast, it doesn’t hurt having friends on the committees that vote on players to be enshrined in MLB’s Hall.
In my opinion, a special section in all Halls of Fame should be reserved for individuals who made a substantial contribution to sports; everything else is just hype for the various sports. And in baseball’s case, the only individuals that I can think of that fit that description are Babe Ruth, whose feats made fans put the Chicago White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series on the back burners and who contributed mightily to the popularity of baseball, former center fielder Curt Flood, whose refusal to be traded was instrumental in changing baseball’s free agency practice, Marvin Miller, the labor leader, under whose leadership the way teams negotiated with players in all professional sports was changed, and Jackie Robinson, who made what is the greatest contribution, opening the sport to ballplayer’s of all colors and nationalities.
To believe that the Hall voters should only choose on the athlete’s athletic accomplishments and not on their character is similar to someone saying, “Winning triumphs everything.”
Presidents of the United States don’t get a pass for their misbehaver; neither do CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies (or Jeopardy game show hosts) or Jane and Joe Worker. But if you can pass that football, sink a three pointer, hit a moon shot home run, athletes’ transgressions receives many passes. It’s as if they’re in a protective bubble that in my opinion should have been burst decades ago.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and nonsports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or email@example.com