Football Hall of Fame Removes Award Winning Image

I’ve been stewing on this for a few days now … the Pro Football Hall of Fame has decided to remove a photo of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez from a display of winners in the 2010 annual Hall of Fame photo contest.

(Hernandez, for those of you living a hermetic life this summer, has been charged with a June shooting death of a man in Massachusetts.)

The reasoning is pretty obvious – the Pro Hall of Fame is there to publicize the NFL, to glorify the game and celebrate its players. Having an image up of an accused murderer doesn’t really fit into that mold.

But, and here’s why I’ve been stewing, that photo wasn’t there because of Hernandez – it was there because the photojournalist, Mary Schwalm of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, used her skills to capture a compelling moment in a game. (Full disclosure here: I worked at this paper many years ago, though I don’t know Ms. Schwalm at all.)

By removing that image, the hall is admitting that the allure of the images it selects as the best coverage is more about who is in the image than the skill of the photojournalist. That’s demeaning to the entrants, both those who have won and those who have not. It gives the perception that the contest is really just to celebrate the great moments the players have, not the great stories the journalists tell.

The print shouldn’t be in the players’ area, for sure. But if it won in a national contest and is displayed in that manner, it should stay up if the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants to uphold the importance of their annual photo contest.

Mark E. Johnson

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