BAFFERT’S HALL OF FAME MEMBERSHIP

The senior vice president of a well-known animal-rights organization sent out an inflammatory email today criticizing the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame for its continued inclusion of trainer Bob Baffert.  Evidently, the group wants the Hall of Fame to revoke his membership for past behavior.  A sentence from the email reads: “The entire racing industry should come together to reject anyone whose success was built on a pile of dead horses and violations.”

In 2014, Yahoo published a piece titled “Criminal in the NFL Hall of Fame,” which discussed individuals with legal infractions who are already in various sports hall of fames, as well as others who belong in a hall of fame but have some objectionable behavior in their backgrounds.  Similarly in 2014, a publication called Complex carried an article titled “The 25 Worst Things ‘Allegedly’ Done by Hall of Famers.” It is quite a list and includes such actions as (documented or alleged) domestic abuse, rape, assault, and murder.  The incidents involve the halls of fame in all the major sports—football, baseball, basketball, and hockey.  Other articles like these have appeared in major publications, including the New York Times (“Hall of Fame Has Always Made Room for Infamy,” 2013. It is behind a paywall.)

When arguments about criteria for hall of fame inclusion come up, the cases of O. J. Simpson and Pete Rose are often front and center.  Simpson was tried for two murders (acquitted) but later was found liable in civil proceedings and was also convicted of another felony and sent to prison.  Today, his plaque remains on display in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  By contrast, Rose was barred from the MLB Hall of Fame for betting on baseball.  The key distinction between the two cases is that Simpson was already in the NFL Hall of Fame and Rose was not in the MLB Hall of Fame.  One could argue, persuasively I believe, that Rose’s violation pales in comparison to Simpson’s and to some of the misdeeds of a number of players in the MLB Hall of Fame.

The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame is on solid ground in keeping Bob Baffert as an inductee.  The obvious precedent set by all of the leading sports hall of fames is to avoid subjecting members to scrutiny once they are in. It is a slippery slope to go back and evaluate hall of fame members on the basis of issues that come to light post induction.

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