The family of Junior Seau didn’t get a ring and gold jacket when the star linebacker was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. Neither did the family of former Los Angeles Rams great Les Richter (inducted in 2011) or any other player who was enshrined after death.
That includes the family of legendary Raiders quarterback and 2016 HOF inductee Ken Stabler. But they became a cause celebre last week when the Hall of Fame held a ring ceremony at halftime of the Bears-Vikings game. In response to a fan who wondered about Stabler’s jewelry, Kendra Stabler-Moyes tweeted: “Sadly, my Dad goes not get a ring.”
Former Raiders CEO Amy Trask tweeted her disbelief, which led Stabler-Moyes to add another nugget: “Yes, seriously,” she tweeted. “No jacket, no ring. My Dad deserves it, dead or alive! He gave so much to the game we all love.”
Yes he did. I was never a Raiders fan but I loved “The Snake,” who died from complications of colon cancer last year. The way he played and personified Oakland’s outlaw image in the ‘70s was very cool to a boy 3,000 miles away in Brooklyn. Stabler, Fred Blietnikoff, Cliff Branch and Mark van Eeghen are characters in some of my earliest and most-indelible NFL memories.
Raider Nation sprang into action upon learning of the Hall’s longstanding policy, which we’ll address momentarily. In a tweet with the image of a Stabler trading card, coach Jack Del Rio implored: “Do the right thing!!” Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks weighed in as well: “No football HOF ring for The Snake’s family? That ain’t right,” he tweeted. “Throw deep, Baby.”
Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN he was working behind the scenes to have the policy lifted. “No way I should have my dad’s ring and Bruce Allen doesn’t have his dad’s,” Davis said. “No way I should have my dad’s ring and Junior Seau’s family doesn’t have his. Same with Dick Stanfell’s family, and Kenny’s family. The guys earned it and their families should get to enjoy it,” he said. “This is an injustice that has to be rectified.”
But I’m not convinced the Hall is wrong for its stance, reiterated Tuesday in a statement.
“While the iconic bronzed busts are created to memorialize every member of the Hall of Fame, the Hall of Fame Ring and Gold Jacket are items presented to living Hall of Fame members to be worn exclusively by them as evidence and pride of their having been elected to sport’s most elite fraternity,” the statement read. “At no time in its 53-year history has the Hall of Fame presented either of these personal adornments posthumously or retroactively to a family member of a deceased Hall of Famer.
“The Hall of Fame believes, to the greatest extent possible, it should avoid creating or contributing to family disputes relative to ownership as well as the potential public sale or distribution of items intended for the exclusive use by a Hall of Famer.”
The Hall could have a hot mess on its hands in determining which family member gets the two items. The deceased player might have chosen his wife or one of his children, a parent, sibling or cousin. He might have preferred the memorabilia go to his side chick. Who knows?
Besides, it’s not like the family gets nothing. Just not the ring and jacket the player would’ve received.
Families of posthumously enshrined HOFers are presented with a framed “Gold Hall of Fame Crest” – otherwise found exclusively on the gold jackets – and a “special memorial Medallion” that commemorates the player’s enshrinement. “Additionally, each Hall of Famer’s wife is presented with a gold Hall of Fame necklace and pendant,” the Hall said. Widows also are eligible for financial assistance and they’re invited back to Canton for the ceremonies each year as the Hall’s guests.
“In addition, with the completion of Hall of Fame Village over the next few years, the Hall will be able to offer assisted and independent care along with other important services,” the statement read.
On Monday, Stabler’s other two daughters – Alexa Stabler-Adams and Marissa Stabler – issued a statement saying they don’t want a controversy, partially because “Dad wouldn’t want us making a commotion over materialistic things.
“We also respect the Hall of Fame’s reasoning behind not awarding a ring and jacket to our father posthumously, as we know Dad would want to prevent any possible conflict among his family on who these should go to,” the sisters said. “In September, the Hall presented his three daughters with a framed Hall of Fame crest that adorns the gold jacket. These are more than enough in our eyes and we will treasure them forever.”
The Hall could change its policy and award the personal memorabilia to next-of-kin as defined by the Army – “surviving spouse, eldest child, father or mother, eldest sibling or eldest grandchild.” Or it could employ the less-restrictive definition used by the other military branches, which don’t require children or siblings to be the eldest.
Or it can continue to award rings and jackets only to those honorees who can put them on. The HOF said its board of trustees reviewed the policy at the Stabler family’s request and “determined that a change to the longstanding policy was not warranted.”
No argument – and no disrespect – in this space.