Len Shapiro is a Washington Post Columnist, Hall of Fame Voter, and outspoken supporter of Art Monk. For that reason, I'm an outspoken supporter of Len Shapiro. He has graciously agreed to answer a few of Hogs Haven's questions regarding Art Monk and the Hall of Fame.
Hogs Haven: Len, thanks again for agreeing to join us. Let's jump right into questions: First and foremost, how long have you been with the Washington Post and on the Hall of Fame Committee?
Len Shapiro: I've been with the Post since 1969, covering the George Allen Redskins from 73 to 79, then again for a few years in each of the next three decades. I'll be heading to my 25th Hall of Fame meeting next February and have been on the senior committee for about six years.
Hogs Haven: How does one become a Hall of Fame Voter?
Len Shapiro: When the Washington Star folded in 1982, I was asked by the Hall to replace long-time Star football writer Steve Guback as a selector. They ask people who have covered the sport extensively, so I guess I qualified.
HH: Per other voters, Paul Tagliabue demanded nearly an hour of debate and was clearly this year's most contested potential Inductee (and I am sympathetic towards your arguments in his favor). Can you comment on how long the debate over Monk lasted?
LS: My recollection is about 15 to 20 minutes, which allowed plenty of discussion. Remember, this was the first time Tagliabue was in the final 17, and Monk has been there before.
HH: What was the prevalent argument against Art Monk this year, in your opinion?
LS: There are a few people in the room who believe he did not have signature catches in big games, that he was not the Redskins big-play go-to guy. I obviously disagree, and I can tell you I believe we're making progress in getting him elected.
HH: In your recent article at the Post you suggest a concern many Art Monk fans have; namely that Monk's snubbing was partially the result of his quiet off the field shyness towards the press. If that is the case, should NFL fans be concerned about the integrity of the process?
LS: No, I think that's just human nature at work. There should be no concerns about the integrity of the process in that regard. I don't think anyone on the committee would withhold a vote because Monk declined him/her an interview.
HH: An additional concern: Perhaps voters may be forgiven for holding Monk's shyness against him; it might mean they simply didn't have the exposure to him to keep his accolades and accomplishments fresh in their minds. However, for some Redskins fans -- myself included -- it often times seems as though Paul Zimmerman (among others) takes pleasure in antagonizing Redskins fans who are known to send hostile emails. I understand the motivation, and I condemn any fan, Redskin or otherwise, who personally attacks voters. But could Zimmerman or others be holding Art Monk's inurbane fans against him during the voting process? John McClane recently made that fear explicit: "Has it occurred to you that all those nasty e-mails insulting the intelligence of the committee just might make some of the pro-Monk crowd switch their votes? I'm not saying it will, but have you thought that you might actually be doing Monk damage?" Do you get a sense that this is influencing votes?
LS: Again, any voter who allows himself to be influenced by fan insults ought to get off the committee. I can tell you I get bombarded all the time by supporters of players not in the Hall, including vicious letters--you ignorant slut, that sort of thing--as well as well orchestrated mail and e-mail campaigns. They're a pain in the neck to deal with, but it It goes with the territory and has no influence whatsoever on how I vote.
HH: Chris Carter comes up for induction next year, and then he is followed by a series of receivers who, in a different era, accumulated better stats than Art Monk. Peter King made this point and it concerns me: Will 2006 be recognized at Art Monk's last, best chance at induction? Can you comfort Redskins fans like myself who are worried that it won't ever happen?
LS: It will not be Monk's last best chance. I will argue next year that Chris Carter absolutely has to wait his turn. Next year is Monk's turn. By the way, how many super bowl teams did Carter play on, another reason I believe he is not a slam dunk next season.
HH: You recently called for character in your Post piece, a sentiment repeated by Jerry Magee and perhaps others. As Art Monk had an outstanding character as well as an outstanding career, I view a change towards considering character as a move in the right direction towards inducting Monk. With voters beginning to acknowledge that importance of off field conduct, is it a matter of if-or-when such considerations are taken into account?
LS: That's a matter the Hall of Fame Board of Directors must decide. At the moment, we are not suppoosed to consider off-field transgressions, or good deeds, for that matter. I believe character should be an issue and some of us have let the board know that. It's their decision and at the moment, I don't think they're inclined to change.
HH: With Art Monk not in, and enough questions reasonably raised about the integrity of the process, many Redskins fans have reached the conclusion that the Hall of Fame Voting process is broken. Many solutions have been suggested, the most intriguing to me that of inviting a few current Inductees to participate in the voting process. Is this something you or (to the extend you'd know) other voters would be open to? Would it even help anything, in your opinion?
LS: It would not help the process. On the senior committee, we have two old-timers in the room as consultants and quite frankly, they're only of modest help. Many times they didn't play in the same era, many times they show bias toward old teammates or coaches. I think our process is a good one, and I think it's going to get better with the addition in the next few years of more voters and perhaps separating contributors from players, so more players and contributors can get in.
HH: Do you think the Hall of Fame voting will ever be transparent? Should it be?
LS: Transparent in the sense that tv cameras will be allowed in the room? No. I believe the best part of the process is a selection meeting when everyone in the room can voice their strong opinion, pro or con on a player, and not have to worry that his views will later be held against him. For example, if the Green Bay selector admitted--and I repeat, this is just an example--that he didn't think Jerry Kramer was the best guard on his team and probably didn't deserve to get inducted, he'd be tarred and feathered when he got home and subject to intense criticism from fans, players and coaches past and present and the entire organization. I am in favor of an open ballot when we get down to the final six. That is, if you vote against Art Monk in the final analysis, man up and go public with it.
HH: Finally Len, I understand that you cannot name names as that would violate the privacy of other voters. But my question is: Can you name names?
LS: I understand there is great frustration among Redskins fans that Monk and players like Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby, also worthy candidates, are not yet in. I would say this. Many players have taken many years to finally get in. Sam Huff, Lynn Swann, Harry Carson, Roger Wehrli. I believe those three and Darrell Green (next year he's eligible for the first time) will eventually be in the Hall of Fame. I'm hoping for a Green/Monk twin double next year, and rest assured, both men have plenty of support in the room and it's just a matter of time.
HH: Len, thank you so much for stopping by Hogs Haven as you are always welcome back. I truly appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions and I wish you the best in the future -- especially in endeavoring to get a great man inducted to the Hall of Fame. HTTR.