With the sporting landscape and recent comments made by former athletes who will not be named it seems that being a member of a sports hall of fame is necessarily as honorable as it used to be. Many criticisms, depending on the institution come from voters being called “unfair” to players being kept out of the Hall of Fame for an extended period of time due to their character being called into question.
It is our intention to focus today in this piece on which of the three major American Sports Hall of Fames would be the hardest to attain membership in. After all, aside from winning championships it would seem that the Hall of Fame is the ultimate prize for individual performance for a player in any sport. So, let us begin.
Canton Ohio- The National Football League Hall of Fame
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is arguably the most famous of the three Hall of Fame locations that will be mentioned. Every year since it was founded in 1960 their has been a class of at least 6 individuals who have been added. Currently, its membership is at 346 as of the class that was inducted in 2020, with more coming in 2021. Out of that humongous number, 189 members are still living. The National Football League is America’s second oldest professional sports league behind Major League Baseball. However, it is also the sport with the youngest Hall of Fame. With the its various members the team with the most members is the Chicago Bears with 33 and the Denver Broncos have the least with 8 which is quite surprising considering their recent successes in the winning back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1990s and their most recent one in 2016.
Being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the ultimate individual goal for a football player. In some cases there are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame who had significant success playing college football and had individual accolades at that level as well. Furthermore, there are some who are members of both the professional and college football hall of fames.
Where is it located and why is it located there?
The National Football League has been official since 1920 with the creation of the first every professional football team, the Canton Bulldogs. Football’s true roots in the United States are unclear as there is debate in some cases that it came from outside the US and other saying that it came from somewhere within the United States. Nevertheless, the National Football League did not have a Hall of Fame until 1960.
Its inaugural class was inducted in 1963 and featured at the time, the game’s most notable players. Among them were Red Grange, Don Hutson, Bronko Nagurski, Sammy Baugh, and Olympian and multi-talented Jim Thorpe. This was by far the games most legendary class ever to be enshrined and having the honor as the first members to the Hall of Fame is something to be proud of.
Canton, Ohio was home to the first NFL Franchise but is also considered to be the home of American Football in general as it made the game popular. In the early years of the NFL teams were not paid as lucratively as they are today and as a result spent most of their time working during the offseason. Canton’s appeal was that is was not too far from various other franchises located within Ohio. The Bulldogs were back-to-back NFL champions in 1922 and 1923 and were the first repeat champions in NFL History. The current residence for the National Football League’s Hall of Fame began to be built in April of 1970.
Criteria for Entry
In recent years the NFL has received scrutiny for its selection process for being enshrined in Canton. From Deion Sander’s comments on Rich Eisen’s Show that they are “just letting everyone in” to the statements that not enough positions are represented in the Hall. Furthermore, individuals have been critical of individuals who are not currently in or are. For instance, Drew Pearson is the only member of the All-Decade 1970s team who is not currently in the Hall of Fame.
To be selected by the Pro Football Hall of Fame there is a selection committee that is made up of 48 people which consists mostly of media members. Every city that contains an NFL Franchise sends a representative to the committee. To be eligible, a potential member must be retired from either playing or coaching for at least five years however, an executive or contributor can be voted in at any time. Anyone can be nominated to the Hall of Fame by anyone. Then a poll is taken three times from the time of nomination in order to narrow down to a class of at least 6. For the 100th season of the NFL in 2020, the NFL selected an additional 15 individuals to be enshrined as well.
The classes are finalized on “Selection Saturday” which is the day before the Super Bowl. In order to be selected, 80 percent of the committee must agree that someone is worthy of being enshrined. At no point has the Hall of Fame ever not enshrined anyone. Those members although elected are not enshrined until August of the same calendar year prior to the next NFL season.
Cooperstown, NY- The National Baseball Hall of Fame
Major League Baseball is the oldest of the three professional leagues in the United States of America. Baseball has a funny history though unlike many other sports. Firstly, it is not exactly known when or where the game came from. There are explanations that say the game dates back to the invention of Rounders, an English version of the game. However, the universally accepted idea is that the game was invented by Abner Doubleday, a Civil War veteran who served at Gettysburg. Doubleday never claimed to have invented the game when he was alive but 15 years after his death was declared to be the games official inventor. He supposedly invented the game in Cooperstown New York years prior to the Civil War in 1839 in a cow pasture. Currently, baseball has lost its luster as the National Pastime and has been pushed aside by other sports like Football and Basketball. Nevertheless, Baseball is as American as apple pie.
In terms of individual achievement the Baseball Hall of Fame is the crown jewel and goal of every individual to ever play the game. Cooperstown has hosted the Hall of Fame since 1936 in which it inducted its first class which included Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner Christy Matthewson and Walter Johnson. When Ruth was elected as a member he had only been out of playing for one season. However, due to his tremendous impact as being the greatest hitter in the game up to that point it was decided that he should be included into that class. Being crowned at Cooperstown is like being enshrined at Canton, it is an honor to be invited to a “Field of Dreams” where the games heroes remain in eternity for all too see.
Criteria for Entry
To enter into Cooperstown, you have be retired for at least five seasons. This appears to be a league standard. Players are elected based on a variety of committees from the overall voters known as the Baseball Writers' Association of America (or BBWAA). This committee is built up of multiple committees as well. Each separate committee manages a certain era of baseball and decides who gets elected. From here, based on being recommended for membership, each individual is on the ballot for 10 years. If they are not elected within those 10 years they are not allowed to be brought back up again. There is not a specific amount of players that can be elected but it is recommended that is be no more than 10 players in one classes. This makes it appear more selective.
Above all other sports Baseball’s Hall of Fame has received the utmost scrutiny. Several years before the Hall of Fame was created the 1919 Chicago White Sox has 8 of it's players banned due to “fixing” the World Series. With a ruling made by the commissioner, the players where not only banned from playing but eventually they were banned from ever being considered for the Hall of Fame. It was not until the 1980s that the issue of being elected was brought up again with the belief that Pete Rose had been betting on games and had committed perjury when asked about it. Rose, in 1990, received a lifetime ban on the game and has since been allowed back in the clubhouse with the Reds but will probably never be allowed in the Hall of Fame as long as he is alive. With Rose’s gambling there was also an issue that has since come to a head in the game. Performance-Enhancing substances. Players like Curt Schilling, who just recently announced that he wanted his name taken off the ballot for consideration, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and even Alex Rodriguez who is eligible starting this season have endured judgement from the Hall of Fame because of steroid usage. It is the belief that Alex Rodriguez will get in as he admitted his usage. Nevertheless, based on their stats, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, both deserve to be in with the best of the best but probably will not ever get the satisfaction of joining baseball royalty.
Basketball Hall of Fame - Springfield, Massachusetts
Our last Hall of Fame is one that is not popularly thought about in sports unlike the other two. Basketball is one of America’s highest grossing sports and one of the more exciting to watch. Basketball. James Naismith the father of the game is who the Hall of Fame is officially named for. Naismith not only founded the game, but also created the basketball program at the University of Kansas where his original rules are currently housed. Naismith is honored in his home country of Canada but more popularly known in the United States for the game he created. Naismith died in 1939 and became the first member of the Hall of Fame which bears his name.
The Hall of Fame was founded in 1959 without an official building to memorialize it's members. Furthermore, in it's initial attempt to raise money it came up well short of the money that it needed. It was not constructed in Springfield, Massachusetts until 1968.
Naismith is said to have invented the game on a snowy day in Springfield, Massachusetts as a gym teacher. Since this legend, Springfield was felt to be the home of the Hall of Fame. Initially, the Hall of Fame was only accepting of players and coaches from the NBA or ABA. However, since the late 1980s, the Hall of Fame has been accepting of people outside of the professional game and even the women’s game. No other Hall of Fame comes even close to that. It's current class for the 2020 year included Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Kim Mulkey, Tim Duncan and several others.
Criteria for Entry
The Naismith Hall of Fame is completely different from anything in the Hall of Fame sector. They have 6 committees which represent each of those that are potentially going to be elected. They have an internal committee, a women’s committee, and even a veterans committee. Basketball’s criteria for entry appears to be a lot more difficult than simply getting a certain percentage of the vote because not everyone votes on you. Instead, only a section of people do.
When trying to play a sport professionally, an individual wants at least three things. Championships, money, and a spot in the Hall of Fame. Very few get all three. Very few get just one to be honest. However, being enshrined in Canton, Springfield or Cooperstown is an individual honor that very few have. To be considered one of the greatest individuals to play anything is an honor in itself. However, for those out there reading this and wanting to play any sport professionally, attaining the Hall of Fame standard is not easy and takes everything that you have. However, based on the criteria for election laid out here it is not going to be easy so just know that. As for which one is the most difficult to enter, based on what has been laid out, think about it on your own.