Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue didn’t reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year in his fourth try as a finalist, and I know what you’re thinking: Yeah, OK, so what? It happens.
And you’re right.
Except it doesn’t happen to contributor candidates. In fact, Tagliabue is the first … and only … contributor candidate to be declined by the Hall’s board of selectors since that category was created in 2015.
If there was a hurdle Tagliabue could not overcome it was concussions, with critics hammering him on what he did – and did not – do regarding serious head injuries during his tenure as league commissioner, making such compelling arguments that Tagliabue failed to gain the 80 percent approval required of candidates seeking enshrinement.
Nevertheless, he just gained support for Canton from an outside and unexpected source -- former NFL Players Association president Tom Condon, a former offensive lineman who today is one of the top player representatives in professional sports.
(We) had such a long period of labor peace with Tagliabue, and, at the same time, I thought he was a visionary. He did some things for the league that I thought moved them along considerably.
Appearing on this week’s Talk of Fame Network broadcast, Condon was asked where he stood on Tagliabue’s Hall-of-Fame candidacy, and he was unequivocal in his response.
“I’d be voting him in,” he said. “(We) had such a long period of labor peace with Tagliabue, and, at the same time, I thought he was a visionary. He did some things for the league that I thought moved them along considerably. Between Pete (former commissioner Pete Rozelle) and Roger (Goodell), I thought Tagliabue certainly fit in there fairly well in terms of his legacy.”
There were no labor stoppages during Tagliabue’s 17-year term as commissioner, and there was considerable progress made on numerous fronts – including minority hiring, stadium construction, league expansion, drug testing and international play. Plus, there was enormous growth in the NFL’s popularity and revenues.
But the concussion issue sabotaged his Hall-of-Fame candidacy last month, with critics pointing to what they believed was an obfuscation of the issue through public comments by Tagliabue and through his appointment of a rheumatologist to oversee serious head, neck and shoulder injuries.
Appearing on the Talk of Fame Network in late January, Tagliabue tried to clarify his positions – as well as backtrack from remarks he made in 1994 when he labeled concussions as a “pack-journalism issue” -- calling his characterization “a mistake.”
In the end, though, it wasn't enough to satisfy voters, with Tagliabue denied enshrinement for the first time since 2009, when he last was a finalist.
“I understand the concussion topic ends up becoming an issue and problematic,” said Condon, “but it was a completely different kind of a climate when Tagliabue was commissioner.
“And some of it was that, instead of having a lot of the player issues that are public now … and I think hurt the image of the league … a lot of similar things Tagliabue and (former NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw) resolved after dining together and determining by consensus what they were going to do.
“They just worked out so many things that weren’t necessarily going to be practically or politically appropriate for contesting in public.”