Trouble for L.T., Again

We are saddened and troubled by the news that Hall of Fame Giant, Lawrence Taylor, arguably (though not much of an argument in my opinion) the greatest linebacker ever to play the game, if not the most dominant defensive force ever to see the field, was arrested Thursday morning and charged with 3rd degree rape (having sex with a child under the age of 17), crimes which, if true, likely mean time in jail. Regardless of whether these allegations see the day of light in a courtroom, this is a serious mis-step for the football legend.  We’ll reserve further comment, for now, other than to say that we hope these allegations are just that, allegations that prove to be false and without merit, for L.T.’s sake.  We also hope that if indeed a crime has been committed against this 17 year old girl, that it be prosecuted accordingly and that the victim is afforded all of the appropriate care and assistance from the authorities. 

We also take this morning to reply to profootballtalk.com’s Mike Florio, who posted an essay Thursday evening, entitled, “NFL Should Ban Former Players Who Tarnish the Shield.”  You can find the full essay at profootballtalk.nbcsports.com.

Dear Mr. Florio:

While I understand the reasoning behind the push to have the NFL take action against former NFL players who reside in the Hall of Fame based upon acts, crimes, and incidents that occur post-football which look poorly upon the league and the NFL shield, any such action taken by the NFL would be inappropriate and misguided.

The honor of being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is directly and unequivocally based upon an evaluation of the football player’s accomplishments while playing the game of football, for the former player’s unparalleled greatness on the field for a duration of time against the toughest competition in the world.  The player is judged to be Hall of Fame worthy by virtue of taking a snapshot of these athletes lives and judging that snapshot of time to be great, so great, that that player deserves to be placed in the Hall of Fame.

To punish a former NFL player who sits in the Hall of Fame, who has been voted into the Hall of Fame by their peers and critics, and take that honor away for incidents that occur (in Lawrence Taylor’s case, well after the individual played the game of football), is to essentially pass judgment on that individual for any and all actions.  Are there members of the Hall of Fame who have committed acts that are criminal? Yes.  Are there members of the Hall of Fame who have committed acts which are morally deficient?  Yes.  Are there members of the Hall of Fame whose demons have never come to light and are not publicly known? The answer is also yes.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame exists to only honor the game of football and those who have played the game at the highest of levels.  The Pro Football Hall of Fame does not have a moral compass in which to pass judgment on the actions of its members by virtue of these individuals being members.  Protecting the shield of the NFL is of the utmost importance, the game of football is important to the fabric of society on many levels and those who represent the game of football are held to a higher standard.  The stars of today are subject to a different code of conduct than the stars of yesterday, they just are, this is a shift in our society which, in part, has been raised to a new level in light of the Michael Vicks, Ben Roethlisberger’s, Adam Jones’, and Chris Henry’s of today’s NFL. 

However, the Hall of Fame, the NFL, and even Roger Goodell do not have the right nor does it make sense that they take the position of judgment in situations where a member of the Hall of Fame errs on the wrong side of exercising personal judgment, when a member commits a crime, no matter how heinous it may be.  The L.T. incident, if true, is a horrible, no argument there and no defending this type of conduct.  But where do we draw the line?  Is it okay to engage in domestic violence, sans Warren Moon?  What about drunk driving which ends people’s lives (see Donte Stallworth who is back on the field in 2010)?  How do we look at O.J. Simpson, acquitted of double murder in a criminal proceeding but later found civilly responsible for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown?

The bottom line is that football heroes are in large part, only that, heroes because of what they accomplished on the field, not what they accomplished off the field.  Not every Hall of Fame member has the dignity and class of a Walter Payton, to expect the same because these athletes achieved greatness on the field is not realistic and will only lead to disappointment.  If L.T. if guilty, if he has done as alleged, than his reputation will forever be tarnished and he will serve time in prison as punishment.  But if true, none of L.T.’s actions diminish his greatness as a Giant or as a member of the Hall of Fame.  Yes, we are disappointed and dismayed, sympathy goes out to the victim and to the perpetrator, but L.T.’s situation, if true, and those like it, serve us the best lesson of all: Hall of Fame or not, athletes do not set the standard of conduct in which we live by, athletes are not role models for behavior, but the stories of athletic accomplishments and greatness, coupled with stories of athletes’ failed judgment, false actions, and inappropriate conduct, do teach us lessons.  Perhaps we can learn more from an individual’s fall from grace than that individual’s achievement of greatness.

We still love L.T., we love what he represents as a Giant figure in our history, we support L.T. as he has fought off-field demons throughout his life. L.T. was, is, and will always be a New York Giant.  I can only hope that regardless of the final conclusion on these allegations, L.T. makes amends with society, with the New York Giants organization, with the fans of New York, and with the game of football which has placed him on a pedestal.

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