Former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was indicted Wednesday for third-degree rape, visiting a prostitute, and endangering the welfare of a child, among other charges. In 1999, Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Could he be kicked out?
No. The Hall has no mechanism for expelling its members. (Other major Halls of Fame—baseball, basketball, boxing—don’t have policies for kicking out players either.) Nor is being good person a requirement for induction in the first place. The institution’s bylaws explicitly state that off-field behavior doesn’t affect one’s eligibility: “The only criteria for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame are a nominee’s achievements and contributions as a player, coach, or contributor in professional football in the United States of America.” That, and a player or coach must be retired for at least five years.
Only baseball’s Hall of Fame explicitly considers character in its eligibility requirements. Its election rules state that one’s induction “shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.” The Baseball Hall of Fame also bans players who are on the league’s “ineligible list,” such as Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Voters for the basketball and boxing Halls of Fame may decide to consider character when they vote, but neither has an official policy one way or the other.
As a result, most Halls of Fame—even baseball’s—include more than a few unsavory characters. Ty Cobb was a well-known racist. Kirby Puckett’s former wife accused him of longtime abuse. Dallas Cowboy Bob Hayes dealt coke. O.J. Simpson kept his crown even after he was forced to pay millions in damages in a civil case filed by the family of Nicole Brown Simpson. (In 1995, someone stole the bronze bust of O.J. from the Hall’s museum and apparently threw it out a car window on a Cleveland highway. It was recovered by a litter crew and returned to its place.) When Taylor was inducted in 1999, his illicit behavior was well-known: He had tested positive for cocaine in 1987 and again in 1988. He was not known for good sportsmanship, either. In 2003, he told 60 Minutes that he used to send escorts to the rooms of rival teams the night before a game to tire them out.
Other sports awards are reversible. For example, the Associated Press tried to strip Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing of his Rookie of the Year honor after the player was suspended for taking performance-enhancing substances. Cushing won the award again on a revote.
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Explainer thanks Zev Chafets, author of Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame.