By the time Lawrence Taylor was wrapping up his NFL Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants, I was still coloring wildly in the confinements of my elementary school class. By the time of his second arrest for buying crack cocaine in 1998, I was firmly entrenched in the halls of my high school. And on the eve of his arrest last week for allegedly raping a 16-year-old girl, I was already a couple of years deep into my writing career.

Taylor’s troubled timeline has served as my own personal growth chart over the years. Stretching back to 1986 when he entered his first drug rehab program, he’s remained one of the more polarizing figures in sports history since his introduction to the football world in the late ‘70s. But outside of a few choppy highlight reels, I’ve never actually seen Taylor play in person. But according to many, he was a certified terror, apparently on and off the field. Sadly, much like fellow Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson (who I’ve also never seen play in person), the two-time Super Bowl champion is doing his best to bury a glorified playing career beneath a list of disturbing chronicles.

On the heels of Taylor’s recent arrest, the question was posed from media circles across the nation pondering whether criminal circumstances should be enough to eject former greats such as Simpson and Taylor from their Hall of Famer honors? In my own word, YES!

Once you get past the on-field accomplishments, what else is left to define a sports legend besides the actions of his post career? For all of his glory, Simpson will forever find it hard to shake the label of murderer after the controversial death of his wife, Nicole Simpson, in 1994, nine years after “The Juice’s” induction into the Hall of Fame. From a sports writer who’s never seen Taylor play, his acclaim to fame at this point for several ‘80s babies remains a chronic bout with crack use and a penchant for trouble with the law.

Some may argue that the Hall of Fame is a measurement of football accomplishments and not a litmus test for choir boys and boy scouts, which is predominantly true. But for all incoming rookies, the NFL takes them on a field trip to Canton, Ohio’s Pro Football Hall of Fame sanctuary upon their entrance into the league. Once inside the Hall, aspiring rookies are given a brief history lesson of some of the league’s former greats.

As an ‘80s product, my memories of Hall of Famers Taylor and Simpson are already bleak as it is. Considering that the majority of today’s new NFL blood consists of ‘90s babies, they probably have no clue whatsoever to the history of today’s Hall of Famers. So one look at Taylor’s bronze enshrinement and how should the tour guide illustrate Taylor’s life? As a man who could avoid a crack-back block with the best of them or as a man who couldn’t avoid a crack rock like the rest of them?

You can’t discredit Taylor’s professional accomplishments but you also can’t ignore his life’s failings neither. Until Hall of Fame memberships are revoked for criminal behavior, the NFL will have a tough decision on its hands.

 

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO