CANTON, Ohio -- The inclusion of former NFL safety and convicted rapist Darren Sharper on the Pro Football's Hall of Fame nomination list, shocked some people Friday and has started a national debate over who should be eligible for induction.
Sharper, a five-time Pro Bowler, appeared on the list released Thursday because at least one Hall of Fame selector nominated Sharper. He also was nominated last year - before he pleaded guilty in a case in which he was accused of drugging and raping up to 16 women in four states. U.S. District Court Judge Jane Triche Milazzo sentenced him to 18 years in prison last month.
Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan explained that there is no character clause in the bylaws, which are approved by the Hall of Fame's board of directors. To be eligible for the nominating process, a player or coach must be retired for at least five years. Forty-eight voters nominate and select the players, coaches and contributors to appear on the ballot based solely on the contributions they have made to the sport, Horrigan said.
To make the first of several cuts, a candidate must be nominated by at least one selector. Horrigan said he didn't know who nominated Sharper this year or last, and that everyone must abide by the rules that are approved by the Hall's board of directors.
"We do have a committee that reviews the process every year, not just from that kind of question, but who can be elected, the number of selections we can have and how the system worked or if it could work better," Horrigan told The Associated Press on Friday. "So I would anticipate this would always be part of the question. But I don't anticipate any groundswell (to change the rules) based on this one case."
Sharper, who won a Super Bowl with Green Bay and also played in Minnesota and New Orleans, is not likely to be elected. But it's certainly not the first time the character question has been raised in regard to Hall of Fame selections.
One of the most notable honorees is O.J. Simpson, who has been incarcerated in Nevada for robberty and kidnapping for the past eight years following a 1995 acquittal on the infamous double-murder. Despite calls for his removal more than two decades ago, Simpson remains a member of pro football's most prestigious club.
And linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who has had a series of run-ins with the law - mostly involving drugs or alcohol - also remains in the Hall of Fame. He pleaded guilty to charges of sexual misconduct and patronizing a prostitute who was 16 years old. He was sentenced to six years of probation in 2011.
"We had to abide by our bylaws, and our bylaws do not have any provision for removal," Horrigan said, recalling the debate about Simpson. "That was probably the highest-profile case that caused us to have discussions on the incident. But ultimately our board voted that it had to be determined on how he played the game."
The public may not see it the same way. Fans and journalists expressed dismay with posts on Twitter on Friday.
"This is not a character flaw, however. This is something even Sharper described at his sentencing as 'heinous,'" Sporting News columnist Mike DeCourcy wrote after the nominees were released Thursday. "This is not someone who was mean to reporters or undermined his teammates or got in one too many bar fights. This is someone who has acknowledged he drugged women - notice the plural there - for the purpose of forcing himself on them while they were incapacitated."