The Suburbanite
  • Stop the presses? HOF voting going in a new direction

  • What does the changing electorate of the Pro Football Hall of  Fame have in common with quarterback Brandon Weeden? Who are the media stars with a say in who is coming to Canton? How much does it cost to be in the Super Bowl town where the voting is done?


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  • The newspaper still delivers on Pro Football Hall of Fame election day.
    It’s not like the old days, when almost all of the voters who pick Hall of Famers were NFL beat writers from papers.
    Still, 26 of the 45 media members scheduled to vote on the Hall’s Class of 2013 on Saturday in New Orleans are “ink-stained wretches.”
    That’s 57.7 percent, slightly higher than Brandon Weeden’s 2012 completion percentage (57.4).
    “Black and white and read all over,” however, has given way to an influx of other media types who tell us with their votes which NFL luminaries are to be bronze busted in Canton.
    The panel includes TV “media stars” Sal Paolantonio, John Clayton and Peter King as at-large voters. It includes 10 representatives of NFL cities who write for websites, work on TV, are radio reporters, or, in some cases, do all three.
    Within the changing landscape, the panel includes voters whose full-time jobs are quite different than the ones they had when they were invited to be voters.
    Dallas-based Rick Gosselin was an NFL beat writer before he was an NFL “national writer.” For more than a decade, he has been a general sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News. He has a vote in baseball’s Hall of Fame elections. The day he chatted with The Repository, he was getting ready to cover a hockey game.
    Mostly, he’s an old NFL junkie.
    “I grew up in Detroit, back when NFL home games were blacked out on TV,” Gosselin says. “They gave us other games. I watched a lot of Browns games.”
    Gosselin was one of the younger voters when he was invited to join the Hall of Fame panel in the 1980s. Now he is 61 years old, a member of the seniors committee.
    He says the integrity of the election has stayed strong, even in a time when 60 percent of voters from 10 years ago have been replaced.
    “I consider it an honor,” Gosselin said, “and I believe most people on the panel consider it an honor to have a say in who gets enshrined for life in Canton.”
    Veteran voter Tony Grossi’s career path has been intertwined with media trends affecting the Hall.
    Grossi was a longtime NFL writer or a Browns beat man for the Plain Dealer. As social media grew, he jumped in with the Twitter crowd. At one point last year, he sent out the tweet heard ‘round the NFL media world.
    Grossi’s one-line shot at then-Browns owner Randy Lerner led to his removal from the Plain Dealer’s Browns beat. In turn, the paper that had been sending him to the Super Bowl every year, enabling him to be in town to fulfill his HOF voting duties, did not assign him to Indianapolis to cover Super Bowl XLVI.
    Page 2 of 2 - Days before the 2012 election, Mary Kay Cabot, who does not normally cover Super Bowls, was appointed to replace Grossi on the panel.
    Grossi found a new job: Browns beat man for ESPN Cleveland-WKNR. He opened a new Twitter account. He reclaimed his old spot as the Cleveland market’s voter on the HOF panel.
    WKNR has sent him to New Orleans. Like most voters, he will do a juggling act, sniffing out Ravens-49ers stories, with Saturday’s Hall of Fame election on his mind.
    Grossi’s situation was unique, but having to scramble for voters is not for the Hall.
    The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, for example, rotates the writer it assigns to the Super Bowl. Mark Craig, a fairly new panel member designated by the Hall of Fame to represent the Vikings’ market, did not vote in 2012 because it wasn’t his turn in his paper’s rotation.
    Hall of Fame voters “get into the Super Bowl free” via media passes, but it is anything but free to be in a Super Bowl city. Hotel, travel and food costs to cover a Super Bowl are in the $3,000 to $5,000 range, depending on proximity to New Orleans, length of stay and frugality of individuals.
    Fewer and fewer media outlets are willing to bear the cost.
    The Hall of Fame does not offer a stipend. It does serve breakfast, lunch and dinner at the election meeting, which will be in a secret location in New Orleans.
    The election panel has grown because the cast of at-large voters — beyond the group of 32 individual representing each NFL team — has expanded.
    This year’s 17 finalists will be discussed in varying lengths Saturday. Meetings used to last three or four hours. Lately, eight and nine hours has been the norm.
    Grossi wasn’t complaining, but he echoed the sentiments of numerous voters when he said:
    “Coming out of that meeting, you are an emotional wreck. To weigh each candidate’s qualifications and make those decisions — and I’ve written this before — is mentally taxing. It feels like some of the hardest work you’ll do.”
    Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, who has represented the Steelers’ market since 1995, has pushed the Hall of Fame to pay a stipend to voters whose media outlets no longer send them to the Super Bowl.
    Bouchette said change can be good, in certain doses.
    “I think the quality of our election meetings is very strong,” Bouchette said. “Most do a real good job of studying up on the candidates.
    “The quality might have been lower when I first joined. There might have been older guys who didn’t seem to put as much into it.
    “They’ve made an effort to bring in some new blood.”

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