(Photos courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
If a sampling of Hall-of-Fame voters is to be trusted, here’s how Antonio Gates’ suspension will affect his chances of reaching Canton.
In essence, selectors contacted this week rebutted Hall-of-Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, who said Gates’ four-game suspension for PEDs is proof that “he cheated the game” and “calls into question everything he’s ever accomplished.” Sharpe also suggested it could sabotage his Hall-of-Fame candidacy.
If this were baseball, he’s probably right. But Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters are more forgiving, and in contacting members of the group Wednesday it’s apparent that Sharpe is wrong; voters don’t believe Gates' candidacy has been severely damaged.
“It’s not a Hall-of-Fame killer for me,” said one, “but it doesn’t help. The PED issue for Gates will be discussed just as it would be for Rodney Harrison or any other athlete who tests positive at some point in their careers. I think Gates will someday be worthy as a Hall-of-Fame finalist.”
OK, so that’s not a blanket pass. But it’s the harshest response I gained in canvassing Hall-of-Fame selectors. More were unconcerned, with one downright adamant that Gates’ record – not a PED suspension in his 13th pro season – would determine his Hall-of-Fame value.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be discussed or won’t be an issue when Gates’ candidacy is discussed. It will. But it does mean that Sharpe is wrong. What they're telling us is that it won’t keep Gates from getting in – not in and of itself. Of course, if voters aren't sure that Gates' record is Hall-of-Fame worthy, it could keep them from supporting his candidacy. But it’s clear it won’t cripple it.
“I would say Gates has pretty strong Hall-of-Fame credentials,” said another voter. “It’s difficult for me to say at this point how his PED violation might impact how he is perceived by Hall-of-Fame voters. If I knew what he was taking I’d have a better feel for how I personally might view the seriousness of it. I am also fairly certain there are a number of men with busts in Canton who have taken PEDs. It really opens up a Pandora’s box. It probably is something we, as a committee, need to have a discussion about.”
Agreed. But in the meantime, we’re left with speculation … and the speculation favors Gates over Sharpe here. The suspension hurts his candidacy, but it’s not a fatal blow. I don’t know what Gates took, either, but I do know that the NFL randomly tests players and that Gates never showed up on anyone’s radar while he was compiling staggering numbers.
He not only is a nine-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro and member of the all-decade team of the 2000s, Gates is the Chargers’ career leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches. Furthermore, last season he became only the fourth player in NFL history produce 12 scoring receptions at the age of 34.
I have no doubt Gates will be a finalist one day, but I’m not so sure about that final step – and not because of his suspension but because of his position. Tight end is underrepresented in Canton. There are only eight in the Hall, with Sharpe and Dave Casper the only modern-era inductee the past two decades (Charlie Sanders was a senior inductee in 2007).
Casper was admitted in 2002. Sharpe was admitted in 2011.
Now consider this: There never has been a tight end chosen in his first year of eligibility, while John Mackey – one of the greatest tight ends ever – waited 15 years to get to Canton and Mike Ditka waited 12.
“I disagree with Sharpe that suspension hurts (Gates’) chances,” said one voter.