What is the Pro Football Hall of Fame to do with Darren Sharper?
This is a question that has been quietly asked for the past three years, ever since one of the biggest defensive playmakers in NFL history became eligible for the Hall of Fame. It is not a question of his resume. It is a question of his record. His police record.
Sharper is tied with Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott for eighth all-time in interceptions with 63. He is third all-time in interception return yardage with 1,412 and fifth in non-offensive touchdowns scored with a remarkable 13. To say Darren Sharper was a playmaker would vastly understate the truth.
A five-time Pro Bowl selection and member of the 2000s All-Decade team, Sharper was a safety no one was safe around. As it turned out however, that may be what has doomed his Hall of Fame candidacy because in 2016 he was sentenced to 18 years in prison after pleading guilty to multiple rape and drug charges in four states: California, Nevada, Arizona and Louisiana.
Regardless of what he accomplished during his 14-year NFL career, and that was considerable, those guilty pleas would seem to exclude him from the highest honor pro football can offer an individual. Only one problem. The Pro Football Hall of Fame specifically precludes considering off-the-field issues when deciding the fitness of a man to wear the Hall’s distinctive gold jacket and have his bust installed in the Great Hall.
Sharper twice led the NFL in interceptions with nine in 2000 for the Green Bay Packers and 2009 for the New Orleans Saints. He had nine interceptions three times and in five of his 14 NFL seasons he finished in the top three in the NFL in interceptions. That means for more than a third of his career Darren Sharper ranked in the two three in picks. He also started on the New Orleans Saints' 2009 Super Bowl winning team.
Add to that his eight forced fumbles and 13 turnovers returned for touchdowns (interceptions or fumble recoveries) and it becomes difficult to make a case that he was not among the most disruptive defensive players in NFL history. Whether that in itself would make him a Hall of Famer is open to debate but that’s also the issue. Will he ever get that debate? And should he?
The Hall forbids voters from considering actions outside the football arena when making its annual choices yet Sharper’s name has yet to appear among either finalists or even semi-finalists. There seems little doubt that will change. Under the Hall’s bylaws, it seems, technically it should but how does one make the case for naming an admitted multiple rapist, who will serve at least nine years of an 18-year prison sentence for one of the most heinous of crimes, a Hall of Famer?
It’s a question far more compelling than Darren Sharper’s statistics, compelling though they too may be. The answer lies within each of the 48 voters. Certainly it is easy enough to find other more worthy candidates because pro football’s senior committee alone has a long line of All-Decade players who have not only never made it to Canton but never even been discussed.
The question is will Darren Sharper be another one?