Terrell Owens: Hall of Fame voters 'adding to the by-laws' to justify keeping him out

Shalise Manza Young

It’s been almost two full weeks since the 48 voters on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee convened in Houston and hammered out the 2017 induction class. The inductees have already started the process of having their faces and features measured for the bust that will live in the Hall in Canton, Ohio, and some may even have reached out to those who will be with them on stage during the August ceremony.

But the discussion over one player who didn’t make it continues.

Receiver Terrell Owens, who first became eligible for induction last year, was among the final 15 finalists but for the second time he didn’t even make the cut to the top 10. Second in career receiving yards, third in receiving touchdowns and eighth in receptions, from purely a statistical standpoint Owens is one of the best receivers to ever play the game.

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Terrell Owens feels Pro Football Hall of Fame voters are changing the rules to keep him out. (Getty Images)

Clearly, however, it’s not as cut-and-dried as statistics.

On Wednesday night, Owens gave his first formal interview since the voting on Feb. 4, speaking to Buffalo News reporter Tim Graham on his podcast. Now 43 years old, Owens didn’t sound like he’s changed his stance much from the day he found out he would have to keep waiting – he tweeted that night the “HOF is a total joke. Honestly, doesn’t mean anything to me to get in beyond this point,” but did elaborate on his feelings.

“To me, there’s something bigger than the Hall of Fame,” Owens said. “As I expressed to Michael Irvin, I don’t need the Hall of Fame to validate what I did or who I am.

“Obviously, what I did, the Hall of Fame, that should validate it. But now it’s something else. Now they’re adding to the bylaws; they’re adding extra things to the criteria to be inducted.

“For me, that’s where I’ve lost all respect for it, in a sense.”

When Owens says, “changing the by-laws,” he likely means some voters citing Owens’ personality and diva-like behavior as reason not to vote for him. We spoke with USA Today’s NFL columnist Jarrett Bell, an at-large voter (there is one voter from each of the 32 cities/teams plus 16 at-large voters) on Thursday, and Bell noted that the Hall’s rules tell selection members that they are to consider only what a player does on the field when considering whether he deserves to be enshrined.

This is the rule The MMQB’s Peter King cited two years ago when he was questioned about the eligibility of Darren Sharper. Sharper is now a convicted serial rapist, but in a series of tweets, King said voters would be “shirking (their) duties” if they didn’t consider Sharper the player.

Some Hall voters, Bell said, counter-argue that if a player gets into a spat with his quarterback in the locker room, that can affect what happens on the field. Owens was not arrested, nor did he serve any league suspensions for performance-enhancers or drug use; Bell pointed to a player like Irvin, who did have drug arrests during his career (and also stabbed a teammate in the neck with scissors at training camp one year) or pass-rusher Lawrence Taylor, and they’re in the Hall.

“It really gets to be a muddied area,” Bell said of voters determining what does and doesn’t come into consideration.

Bell voted for Owens both last year and this year, and said he was surprised that Owens didn’t advance further in the process this year, but when he considers the intensity of the discussion among voters on his candidacy, he understands why.

“I’m a supporter of his but there are more people who obviously are not supporters and they are digging in; they are pretty passionate about why he shouldn’t be in,” Bell said. “The gist of it is that people are considering him not to be worthy because of drama off the field, and that really should not be the basis.”

Jason Cole, a Bleacher Report writer who did not vote for Owens this year, wrote in a column posted Wednesday that Owens deserves to be in “at some point.” As part of his process on deciding who to vote for, Cole surveys former players, executives and coaches for their thoughts on the year’s nominees; this year, he surveyed 250 individuals.

Cole wrote that this year, Owens finished third in voting among those he polled with 120 votes, far behind LaDainian Tomlinson (207) and Kurt Warner (165), both of whom are part of the Class of 2017. But Cole noted that among the 23 Hall of Famers that are part of his survey group, only seven voted for Owens.

While noting that Owens does have stellar career numbers, Cole also noted that beyond his behavior, there are quarterbacks and coaches who will note that Owens wasn’t a great route-runner; Bill Parcells, who coached Owens in Dallas, said just that on the radio this week, though he does believe Owens deserves a spot in the Hall.

“Considering my body of work and what I’ve done on the football field,” Owens told Graham, “that should have been justification for me to have gotten in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and definitely this year.

“I’m not bitter in that regard, but when it comes to questioning my character and what I did in that locker room, the thing what a lot of people are missing is these coaches and these people are saying is I’m this type of person in the locker room. Well, who are those guys? Nobody’s attached any names to anything. They’re just saying, ‘Well, this is what I heard.’ ”

From our point of view, if the Hall rules state that off-field behavior is not a consideration, then Owens should be in, and it would look even more petty if some of those who oppose his induction dig their heels in further after Owens’s comments.

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