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Unraveling History

They have been tearing down statues all over the country. Christopher Columbus statues are coming down left and right. They have torn down statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they owned slaves.

In San Francisco, they tore down the statue of Ulysses S Grant, the Union General who destroyed the slave owning confederacy, who as President crushed the KKK. His crime? He owned a slave that was gifted to him by marriage. After working side by side with this slave for a year, and when he was practically destitute and could have sold the slave for $1,000, he set the slave free.

They have even torn down the statue of a man named Matthias Baldwin in Philadelphia, a strong abolitionist who fought for the rights of African-Americans, and spent a fortune founding a school for black children. His crime, he purchased slaves. Yes, he purchased slaves, for the purposes of granting them their freedom.

Athletics is not immune to the desecration of history. The NFL led by some of their most prominent players are intent on purging the league and this country of its past sins. DeShaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins put pressure on Clemson University to change the name of Calhoun Hall because it was named after former Vice President John C. Calhoun who was a slave owner and defender of the institution of slavery. There is a strong push to change the name of the Washington Redskins because it has been deemed racist against Native Americans.

They tore down a statute of Joe Paterno at Penn State a few years ago because of crimes that an assistant coach committed under his watch. The statue of former Carolina Panther’s owner Jerry Richardson in front of the stadium in Charlotte has also been torn down for his racist and sexist behavior.

The former owner of the Washington Redskins, and Hall of Famer, George Preston Marshall, had his statue in front of JFK stadium taken down, as well as his name removed from FEDEX field because of his racist and segregationist beliefs and actions. There has also been a call to remove his bust from Canton, yet no one has called to remove the bust of double murderer OJ Simpson who viciously killed his ex-wife and mother of his two children.

The Hall of Fame released a statement saying, “Once elected, nothing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s bylaws allows for the removal of a Hall member.”


John David Smith of Pro Football Talk believes there should be an exception to those bylaws, but curiously only for George Preston Marshall. He writes, “it’s hard to justify the stance that his contributions were, on balance, worthy of a bust in Canton. Any positives he contributed to the league are outweighed by the enormous negative of keeping black players off his team solely because of the color of their skin.” He, then, goes on to defend OJ Simpson’s bust remaining by writing, “Simpson was elected solely for what he did on the field, and no one disputes that Simpson was a Hall of Fame-caliber player.” I guess the Juice is the only person left in the country who gets to benefit from compartmentalization.

If we are arguing that OJ Simpson is honored in Canton, not because he is morally superior to other human beings, but because of his accomplishments on the playing field, then we can argue that the statues of George Washington were erected not because he was morally superior to others, but because of his accomplishments on the battle field leading the Continental Army to defeat the British. OJ got it done on the playing field. Washington got it done on the battlefield. And yet we tear down Washington, and honor Simpson?

And if players are honored only for what they accomplished on the field. Only. Then why has Darren Sharper never been on the ballot? 14-year veteran. 182 starts. 5 Pro Bowls. 2 All-Pros. Super Bowl Champion. 63 career INTs-tied with HOFer Ronny Lott for 9th. Led NFL in INT return TDs 3 times. Led NFL in INTs 2 times. More tackles and INTs than HOFer Champ Bailey. He has never been on the ballot once. Never. If it’s only about what he did on the field, he should still be on the ballot. He was never considered because he is a serial rapist, sitting in prison for the next 20 years. If the only reason OJ’s bust remains in Canton is that he committed his horrific crime after he was enshrined is a completely untenable position.


If OJ had not murdered anyone, there would be strong push to repeal the Hall of Fame bylaw preventing the removal of George Preston Marshall’s bust, and an accusation against the Hall of Fame that they were hiding behind a bylaw to defend a racist.


If they were to take down George Preston Marshall’s bust, are we supposed to act like the contributions that got him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame never happened? And if OJ Simpson’s bust were removed, would they also purge his name from the record books, pretend that his 11,236 career rushing yards, his 75 touchdowns, and his 2,003-yard season never happened? Because that’s what occurs when you purge someone’s history, you remove their existence like they do in Communist and Totalitarian countries.

But if the NFL and the players are really serious about purging their League and the United States of their past sins, would they be in favor of banning for life players like Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt and Joe Mixon who are known domestic violence offenders? Or is brutally beating a woman into submission the last remaining forgivable sin?

Patrick Mahomes has been very outspoken on social justice. He said in response to the George Floyd killing, “Let’s be the world where my little sister, generations to come, and even my future kids will grow up never having to experience these tragedies.” That’s a great statement for him to make, except does the fact that he has thrown the ball to Tyreek Hill 400 times over the last 4 years, tacitly approve of Tyreek’s past violence against women, his misogyny? It’s much more likely that Patrick Mahomes’ sister will be a victim of domestic violence than police brutality. But when you’re a quarterback, it’s difficult to take a hard-moral stance against a wide receiver teammate who runs 4.30.

Some people like Ray Rice have lost their careers due to domestic violence, but many others who did the exact same thing as Rice, have gotten a mere slap on the wrist and have continued playing, making millions of dollars, and being glorified by the public. Where is the consistency? One of the most important tenets to morality and virtue is consistency. Without consistency, there is no morality, no virtue, everything then becomes random moral judgements which creates more injustice.


The problem with injecting consistency into this moral preening is that once you decide to exclude one person based on immoral behavior, there is compelling evidence to expel another, and another, and yet another, until there are very few people left standing. When you start unwinding our past, you end up unraveling our entire history until there is nothing left to honor.

Which begs the question why do we build statues and create museums to honor mere people anyway? It feels a lot like idol worship. These people are not Gods. They are not super human. If you really knew who all these people we honoring are, you would see they are not any more worthy of being honored than you and I. Their only contributions to society are that they run faster or throw further or hit harder than the average person. And if their accomplishments on the field are the only things we are honoring, why are we having this moral debate in the first place?

In the end, the greatest moral virtues are forgiveness, understanding, compassion and love, traits that this new moral mob, intent on enacting social justice through the desecration of history, seem to have no need of until one of their sins are exposed to the world. This is why it is wise to worship no human beings, but have compassion, forgiveness and love for all human beings, even the ones we don’t think deserve it like George Preston Marshall, OJ Simpson and Tyreek Hill because they need it the most.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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