Shame on the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Larry Michael, the Washington Redskins’ chief content officer and senior vice president, has been named one of 48 selectors voting on future candidates for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio. He’ll be in Minneapolis the day before the Super Bowl in February to cast his first official vote.
Michael is also the radio play-by-play voice of the Washington Redskins and hosts “Redskins Nation” on NBC Sports Washington and the team’s weekly coach’s show on WRC.
And he’s got no business being in that selection room when the Hall of Fame picks its Class of 2018.
This is not a knock on Michael’s vast broadcasting experience, or on his knowledge of the Redskins or other NFL players past or present. He has most of the same media chops as anyone else now voting, with one exception: None of the other 47 selectors is a high-ranking executive on the NFL team he or she represents on the committee.
Only one other current voter, former Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Geoff Hobson, is currently on a team payroll. Like many journalists whose newspapers downsized in recent years, Hobson needed a job. So he now writes features and game stories for the Cincinnati Bengals’ website.
Being a Bengals employee alone should have disqualified him from being allowed to vote on the HOF, but the Hall made an exception several years ago, without much hue and cry from anyone. Hobson had been on the committee when he worked for the paper, was not a team executive, was still performing the same basic reportorial duties covering the team he did when he was writing for the Enquirer. He also was way down on the Bengals’ organizational depth chart.
Michael’s prominent role in the Redskins’ front office is markedly different.
Michael is The Voice and, in many cases, one of the more visible faces of the organization. He has a close relationship with team owner Daniel Snyder, who also is a member of the Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees that approved Michael’s spot on the selection committee.
If you don’t think Snyder will attempt to influence Michael’s actions, you haven’t paid much attention to the owner’s meddlesome reign of error since he purchased the franchise in 1999. Equally troubling will be Michael’s ability to serve as Snyder’s eyes and ears inside the selection room.
Selectors are asked to take a vow of silence on who said what during the selection process. That means no specific details of sometimes extremely contentious discussions should be written or talked about by selectors themselves. They’re also asked not to discuss specifics with other media members covering the selection process once the voting has been completed.
This year, former Redskins offensive lineman Joe Jacoby likely will be a finalist. Michael will make a presentation as to why he deserves to be enshrined. Then every other selector in the room will have a chance to make their own case for, or against. Let’s say three or four stand up and question Jacoby’s credentials in that discussion period. And let’s also say Jacoby makes it to the final six, but doesn’t get the necessary 80 to 83 percent of votes taken in a secret ballot he needs to gain entry.
If you don’t think the names of Jacoby’s detractors won’t be shared with the owner minutes after the final names are announced, think again. Is it too far-fetched to think Snyder wouldn’t try to have such voters replaced? He’d be in position to do so.
I’ve known Larry Michael for many years. We’ve always had a good relationship. He’s a talented broadcaster, though far too much of a Redskins homer to suit my taste. But I know he works for the team, and a home-team bias goes with his job.
He also works for Snyder, who would fire him in a George Steinbrenner minute if Michael criticized his team, his coach or, heaven forbid, the owner himself on the air. And now, Snyder owns a small piece of the Hall of Fame selection process as well.
By the way, plenty of qualified candidates in this market have no ties to the team. Veteran radio broadcasters Andy Pollin and Thom Loverro (also a fine newspaper columnist) come immediately to mind. So do longtime ESPN.com beat writer John Keim and Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Paul Woody.
I spent close to 30 years as a Hall of Fame selector, first representing Washington, then as an at-large member. (The Post sports department no longer allows employees to vote for Halls of Fame or postseason awards.) I considered it an honor, and a privilege. And yet, if the Hall of Fame had tried to install a high-ranking team executive such as Michael onto the selection committee, I’d also like to think I’d have resigned immediately and never looked back.
Here’s hoping some of my former colleagues on the committee will feel the same way. Shame on them, too, if they don’t.
Leonard Shapiro was a reporter, editor and columnist in the sports department of The Washington Post from 1969 to 2010.