Many Kansas City Chiefs fans are angry at former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez after a poorly thought-out tweet and an unfortunate statement to Atlanta-based reporters during Super Bowl week. Gonzalez has since apologized to Kansas City fans.
I’m not here to tell you that you’re right or wrong to be mad at Gonzalez right now. And whichever way you feel about it, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t say much that would change your mind anyway.
But these two incidents both caused a certain kind of statement to bubble up in comments here on Arrowhead Pride and social media — statements about how a player might (or might not) “go into the Hall of Fame as a member of the [insert team name here].”
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen these kinds of statements; they’ve been around for many years, and have been about many different players who played for more than one team during their careers.
But since I’ve seen it a lot during the last few days, I decided to look into it.
Let’s clear this up: Tony Gonzalez isn’t going into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Chiefs. But he’s not going to go into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Falcons, either.
Here’s a statement on the subject from the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s website.
Obviously, teams take great pride in the accomplishments of individuals who have been a part of their organization. Often individual teams and even the Hall of Fame will list enshrinees according to the team or teams on which they spent a significant period of time. An enshrinee, however, is not asked to “declare,” nor does the Hall of Fame “choose” a team under which a new member is enshrined. When elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an individual is recognized for his accomplishments as a player, coach, or contributor.
The Hall of Fame actually goes out of its way to highlight all the teams with which an enshrinee was involved. For example, in the media guide for the 2018 Hall of Fame inductees, here’s the heading for Bobby Beathard:
BOBBY BEATHARD — Contributor
The same is true for players like 2018 inductee Randy Moss, whose NFL career was even more complicated:
RANDY MOSS — Wide Receiver
Note that the Hall even mentions the college that an enshrinee attended — although that wasn’t part of their professional career.
Furthermore, there are three tokens representing each enshrinee’s membership in the Hall: the bust that is on permanent display in Canton, the gold jacket they put on at the induction ceremony, and the Hall of Fame ring they receive.
Yet none of these shows any hint of team affiliation.
So how did this idea that pro football players entering the Hall of Fame have to “choose” or “declare” team affiliation? That’s hard to say, but we can make some guesses.
One is that players who have played for multiple teams sometimes choose to “retire from” one of them. If it’s not the team for which they are playing at the end of their career, what usually occurs is that the team they choose will sign them to a one-day contract, so they can officially retire from that team. Perhaps people have simply come to think the Hall of Fame does something similar.
Another explanation might be the entirely different practice followed by the Baseball Hall of Fame. In Cooperstown, each enshrinee has a plaque with a bas-relief of their face wearing one of the caps worn in their career. But while the Baseball Hall of Fame does seek input from the enshrinee on which cap they will be depicted wearing, the Cooperstown folks make the initial decision — and sometimes fans of the other teams have been angry at their call.
Sports fans angry about the official call? How could such a thing possibly happen?
The Pro Football Hall of Fame does something similar — but not nearly as sculptural.
If you go to the Hall of Fame’s website and look up enshrinees by franchise, you’ll see Bobby Beathard’s name listed under the Chiefs list of Hall of Fame inductees, along with players like Morten Anderson who had short stints with the team. But players who played for multiple teams who spent the most significant part of their careers playing for the Chiefs — such as Curley Culp — are listed in bold type.
In case you’re wondering Morten Anderson is listed in bold type under the New Orleans Saints.
Currently, we don’t know under which team Tony Gonzalez will be listed in bold type; Gonzalez isn’t yet listed under the Chiefs or Falcons. This might be because the Hall hasn’t yet decided under which team Gonzalez will be listed in bold — or perhaps because Gonzalez simply hasn’t yet returned the call from the Hall’s IT department to tell them under which team he wants to be... uhh... boldfaced.
He’s been a little too busy sending out tweets, you know.
Regardless of how this is ultimately decided for Gonzalez, the way the Hall makes the distinction should remind us that in the grand scheme of things, it’s relatively unimportant. Even the Hall of Fame that casts its decision in bronze — rather than with an HTML tag — understands that.
“From our standpoint, the logo isn’t something we want to be controversial, because the last thing you want is to have a divisive factor when someone’s being celebrated with baseball’s greatest honor,” Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson told ESPN in 2009. “And for any player who played for multiple teams, the fans in each of those cities should claim that player to be their own. Because without that player’s time with that team, he arguably would not have been a Hall of Famer.”