Many voters for the Baseball Hall of Fame have gone on record as saying they never will vote for a player who has tested positive for performance- enhancing drugs or was suspected of using them during his career. Daily News football writer Paul Domowitch, who has been one of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 44 selectors for the last 10 years, recently asked two dozen of his fellow selectors whether they would vote for a player who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Here is his opinion, followed by some of their responses:
Paul Domowitch, Daily News: "I wouldn't eliminate a player for Hall of Fame consideration based strictly on one positive steroid test. Two or three, maybe. But not one. For starters, God knows how many players already are in Canton who used steroids during their career. These things have been around the league since at least the early '60s. Secondly, it's very difficult to distinguish between the guy who unknowingly took a tainted supplement once and the guy who was really trying to cheat. While the NFL's testing program isn't unbeatable, it's the best in professional sports. If a guy has only tested positive for steroids once, it would unfair for me to make the assumption that he's been using them his entire career. Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, who served a four-game suspension in '07 for using steroids, has 39.5 sacks in 43 NFL games. If he continues at that pace for, say, the next 8 or 9 years and doesn't test positive again, chances are pretty good I'd give him the thumbs up for Canton."
Jarrett Bell, USA Today: "I'd consider a player who tested positive for peformance-enhancing drugs, if it falls in line with the bylaws of the Hall of Fame committee. Basically, I'm open-minded. I can't sit here and say I'd eliminate a candidate just on that basis because there are varying circumstances. What about tainted substances? What about a player suspected of cheating, but was never caught? What about comparisons to other transgressions, incuding street drugs or painkillers? What about the evolution of the league's steroids policy, where someone might already be in the Hall after using some performance-enhancer that was once legal, then subsequently banned? These are the types of questions that might complicate a case. That's why I wouldn't take an unequivocal position. There are a number of variables that can enter into the equation. And sometimes, we don't always get all the information. Now, would I want to see a player selected to the Hall of Fame who knowingly and consistently used performance enhancers for a competitive advantage? No. Of course not. A level playing field is the ideal scenario. So the spirit of the action is a factor, too."
Ron Borges, Boston Herald: "In general, I'd say I would because, frankly, I think [steroid use] is rampant in pro football, and everyone knows it. I always tell folks who ask about steroid use in pro football to go to the mall for the weekend and try to find three people walking around who look like these guys. I'd lean toward ignoring it unless someone was a serial abuser. In that case, I might well vote against him because he's too stupid to be in the Hall of Fame."
Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Yes, I would vote for him. The NFL has a system to punish those caught using steroids and the like. I'm in no position to punish them more by not considering their accomplishments for the Hall of Fame. I've voted for others who've had drug convictions, too."
Charles Chandler, Charlotte Observer: "It would be on an individual case-by-case basis. Unlike some other 'character' issues, I believe the use of steroids should be considered and actually would fit into the Hall's policy to consider because it impacts on-field performance in a way that is both against the rules and unfair to competitors. But there needs to be room for a redemptive end to mistakes. So using steroids would not necessarily cause me to rule out a candidate, but it would be cause for concern and further deliberation. Anyone playing the game today or in the future needs to know that steroid use will at the very least slow and hinder his candidacy for the Hall of Fame."
Cliff Christl, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: "Based on the 'only criteria for election' clause in the Hall bylaws, I wouldn't turn thumbs down on a player for steroid use. I'm assuming there are users in the Hall already – players from the '70s and '80s when steroid use was believed to have been prevalent. Say the next Jerry Rice or Walter Payton or Reggie White plays 10 years at a Hall of Fame level, but also gets suspended for four games one year, or maybe even for a full season, in the middle of his career. I'd still vote for him if the bylaws don't change and he performs at a [Hall of Fame] level. I don't want to play park ranger. It's hard enough judging most of these candidates on what they did on the field. I don't want to have to judge them on their behavior as well. O.J. Simpson is in the Hall of Fame. So is [former Redskins owner] George Preston Marshall, who, by many accounts, was a flaming racist. That's life. It's not possible for us to purify Canton."
John Czarnecki, FoxSports.com: "If a player had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and was suspended by the NFL, it automatically places a black cloud on his career. But there might be explainable circumstances for the positive. I would listen to that first. But if I wasn't convinced, I would probably vote no. In a game where there is pain on every play, and in a sport that elevates those who play hurt, there shouldn't be honors for those players who cheat the game they are supposed to love and respect."
David Elfin, Washington Times: "First of all, I operate under the innocent-until-proven-guilty belief. Therefore, I would put Pete Rose in Cooperstown unless someone can prove to me that he bet AGAINST his own team. Second, Michael Irvin's drug use bothered me when his name came before the committee. Steroids would be even worse because they presumably help a player. I guess I would look at each case individually. The NFL seems to have a pretty solid testing program these days. If a player has a single four-game suspension during a Hall of Fame-worthy career, I would probably vote for him. Repeated offenses would raise red flags for me. I think it comes down to whether you believe the NFL is catching the offenders. If you do, the players of the '70s and '80s will be harder cases to decide than those of today."
Mark Gaughan, Buffalo News: "Unlike baseball, the NFL has had a widely respected steroid-testing program, dating to the late '80s. So, repeated, long-term steroid use has been much harder to get away with in the NFL. If, say, Shawne Merriman goes on to have a Hall of Fame career, it's likely that I will presume he remained clean since his 2007 suspension. I realize it's possible that a player, with high-tech assistance, could be staying one step ahead of the law by using cutting-edge masking agents. But if the NFL can't prove it, how can I, as a Hall of Fame voter, hold it against a theoretically suspect player?"
Rick Gosselin, Dallas Morning News: "I'm not in favor of rewarding cheaters, but it would have to be black and white for me to make that decision [not to vote for them]. The Hall of Fame is supposed to be for the game's greatest players, not the best cheaters."
Tony Grossi, Cleveland Plain Dealer: "Yes, I would vote for a player who has tested positive for steroids. But his overall body of work would have to be overwhelming for me to wipe that large blemish off his record. I probably would not vote for a player who had multiple positive tests or suspensions. But one indiscretion could be overcome in my mind."
Alex Marvez, FoxSports.com: "Use of steroids or a barred performance-enhancer has a direct correlation to a player's on-field performance and could have led to the very reason why he is being given Hall of Fame consideration. So it would likely influence my vote. That being said, I would enter the [selection] meeting with open ears in listening to what the presenter has to say about any nominated player with a steroid taint. I also would want to know how long a period that player was using an illegal substance, or suspected of using one. The NFL has avoided a Barry Bonds-like situation so far, but would be rocked if it was discovered that a record-holding player had used barred substances during their career."
John McClain, Houston Chronicle: "It depends on the extent of the steroid use and how many times and for how long a player was suspended. If a player is suspended for four games for using [performance-enhancing drugs], and becomes one of the greatest [players] in history, I'll vote for him. I'd take each case individually."
Ira Miller, The Sports Exchange: "I could vote for such a player, but the steroid issue would become one of many I would include in assessing his impact and career. I guess the best example I can give is the debate we had over Lawrence Taylor, where some people said they wouldn't vote for him because of the drug issue. I have no problem taking that into account. But he was such a dominant player that, if you gave him demerits for drugs, it would drop him from say, an A-plus-plus candidate to just an A-plus. Now, if a guy were a marginal candidate with a steroids strike against him, I'd be more inclined to vote for a player who might not have made quite the impact, but did not test positive."
Dan Pompei, Chicago Tribune: "I can't give you a pure yes or no. I would have to do a lot of thinking and would want to hear arguments from both sides. I also would say that I would want to judge it on a case-by-case basis, rather than make a blanket policy that rules out all users. It's a complicated issue. But if you're asking me if I would fall in line with the baseball voters who say they would never consider voting for any steroid user, the answer is no, I would not be in that camp."
Jim Trotter, Sports Illustrated: "My answer is based strictly on emotion and not intellect. My gut reaction is that I would vote for a player who has tested positive once. Twice, no. But once, yes. The reason, I guess, is that I assume many of the players are on something. The irony is that I would not vote for a baseball player who tested positive, hypocritical as that is. Perhaps it has something to do with the way we were brought up and taught that baseball was a game that held itself to a higher standard. As football players' bodies evolved into comic book caricatures, intellectually, it became unrealistic to believe that all of these bodies were natural. I would venture to argue that fans feel the same way; that performance-enhancers are a part of the game – an accepted part of the game. Look at their reaction when Shawne Merriman returned from his four-game suspension [in 2007] after testing positive. The applause and cheers were louder than ever before."