Next year, Sharper will be eligible for induction into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame. He finished his 14-year career with 63 interceptions, 731 tackles and one Super Bowl victory, impressive numbers that certainly make him one of the most dominant safeties of the 2000s.
That's who Sharper is today-an accused serial rapist who used to be a good football player. He isn't one or the other. Some, however, disagree with this notion.
In anticipation of Sharper's newfound HOF eligibility, NFL writers-most notably Peter King of The MMQB-have begun to publicly defend Sharper's Hall of Fame candidacy.
King began the discussion with a bang right after the Super Bowl ended, taking to Twitter to defend his decision to consider Sharper's candidacy, despite the fact that even without his legal woes, Sharper would be a borderline candidate at best. King even devoted an entire column to the subject.
If I said, "I will not consider Sharper for induction because he has been accused of multiple rapes," I would resign from the committee.
The reasoning King is using is an (overly) simple one: "The bylaws of the Pro Football Hall of Fame forbid the 46 voters from considering players' off-field lives," he said.
In King's mind, it doesn't matter that there are drug and rape accusations against Sharper by women in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Arizona, and New Orleans, dating back to 2013.
In King's mind, it doesn't matter that all of these accusations follow almost exactly the same script, as Kyle Wagner of Deadspin recapped:
The two incidents in Los Angeles follow an eerily similar template. In the first, on Oct. 30, 2013, two women were at a club in West Hollywood. As it was closing, Sharper invited both to an after party, but said he had to stop by his hotel-where he was living due to his job as an NFL Network analyst-to pick something up. Upon arriving, he offered both a shot of what he called "Coffee Patron." They drank it, and passed out within minutes. One woman woke up hours later, naked, with Sharper on top of her. The other woman woke up outside, on a sofa, and stopped him. Both women left in a cab, and have hazy memories of what happened after they woke up.
In King's mind, the only thing that matters is that Sharper had 13 defensive touchdowns in his pro football career. Considering anything else would cause King to "shirk" his duty as one of only 46 voters for the Hall of Fame.
On the surface, I understand what King is saying -- the Hall of Fame shouldn't need a morality clause. Baseball has one, and it's pretty ridiculous. Considering the character of all Hall of Fame candidates could lead to ridiculous rulings such as, hypothetically, Marshawn Lynch being overlooked because of his refusal to talk with the media.
However, there are exceptions to every rule, and, in my opinion, accusations of serial rape are where things start to get murky.
That's because players simply aren't as divisible from their off-field personas as King would like to believe they are.
There is not one Peyton Manning who throws touchdown passes and another who sings Nationwide jingles. There's not one Tom Brady who wins Super Bowls and another who is a husband and father. There's not one Rob Gronkowski who destroys defenses and another who lives on a party bus. And there's not one Darren Sharper who is a HOF-eligible safety and another who is an accused serial rapist. That's not how people work.
Additionally, the NFL HOF does not exist in a vacuum. It is not separate from a league that ignored violence against women for years, defaulting to the corrupt legal system to discipline athletes accused of such crimes. It's not separate from the league that became the center of the national domestic violence conversation when the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancé went viral.
It is certainly not separate from a society where one in five women are survivors of rape, one in three women experience violence from their partners and one in two women have experienced some sort of sexual violence in their lifetimes.
If Sharper is voted into the Hall of Fame (and if his legal situation doesn't suddenly and unexpectedly change for the better), it would send a message-a very loud and high-profile message, at that-that serial rape just isn't that bad of a crime. That what you do on the field in the course of a game trumps everything else in life, without exception.
If King and the other HOF voters want to induct Sharper into the Hall of Fame, they have every right to do so. But they shouldn't kid themselves that they're just voting for a football player.
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