We've all heard that so many Hall of Fame voters have an opinion that a player has to be one of his sport's elite to be considered for enshrinement their first time. In fact, there have been stories of some voters who unilaterally refuse to vote for a player on his first try into a HoF. I can understand if you have so many eligible candidates that you have to pick certain ones to vote for. However, to mentally disqualify a player from receiving your vote only because it's his first year of eligibility is insane! What is it about a player's performance that will make him more worthy a year from now? What stats will have changed??
As I listened to Art Monk's NFL HoF induction speech, I heard exactly why this "first ballot bias" is so dangerous. Monk spoke of how his father was his biggest fan, and how his father delighted in coming to watch him play. Monk went on to mention how he was sure that his father would've loved to have been at the HoF ceremony. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible, because his father passed away a few years ago. To the rest of us, it might not make any difference that Art Monk had to wait 8 years to get inducted into the Football HoF, but I think it may have made a big difference to his family. Voting for most Halls of Fame are totally subjective, and rely on what a variety of statistics means to writers, former players, and other voters. In the case of Art Monk, in my opinion, there was one simple statistic that should've guaranteed that he be an instant Hall of Famer. When there are never any character or off-field matters that might influence voters (like in the case of Pete Rose or Barry Bonds), certain all-time stat leaders should be Hall of Famers. Imagine the NHL HoF without the career leader in goals, or the NBA HoF without the career leader in points, or MLB's HoF without the career leader in strikeouts. Art Monk retired as the NFL career leader in pass receptions. Monk retired with the NFL record for consecutive games with at least one reception. He has since been passed by several players in both categories, but at one time, Art Monk could look into the mirror and see a man who caught more passes than anyone EVER in the history of the NFL. To me, that in itself makes you HoF worthy.
Since Art Monk became eligible for the HoF, he's had to watch a number of WRs go in before him with greatly inferior numbers. Monk: 940 receptions, 12721 yards and 68 touchdowns. Lynn Swann, inducted in 2001: 336 rec, 5462 yds, 51 tds (never more than 61 rec or 880 in any one season). John Stallworth, inducted in 2002: 537 rec, 8723 yds, 63 tds. Michael Irvin, inducted in 2007: 750 rec, 11904 yds, 65 tds. I mean seriously...Lynn Swann?? What a joke! He was good, but Hall of Fame?? But the real point is, voters, if a player belongs in the HoF, vote him in! The athlete himself has had the accolades, made the money, had the high profile. Getting into the HoF and the ceremony surrounding it is for everyone else. The HoF induction speech, whatever the sport, is largely the chance for that athlete to have one grand forum to show his appreciation. It's his chance to stand tall and public thank everyone who helped him achieve the things that he's achieved in his career and life. A chance to mention all the people who most folks don't know are responsible for his success. It's for the mom who drove him to practice. It's for the coach who encouraged him to stick with the game when he wanted to quit. It's for the family who invited him to home-cooked meals when he was away at college. It's for that training camp coach who lobbied for him to be able to make that first professional roster. Those are the ones who deserve it sooner than later.