If Junior Seau's Daughter Can't Speak at the Hall of Fame, No One Should

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterJuly 24, 2015

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Don’t pick up the phone when the Pro Football Hall of Fame calls, Rodney Harrison. They will want you to speak for Junior Seau at the induction ceremony, and you don’t want to do it.

Ditto for you, Bobby Ross. Let them leave a message; you’ll get back to them in September. Make yourselves indisposed, Spanos family. Bill Belichick: You haven’t a stitch to wear.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame will be burning the phone lines because it has chosen to not let Seau’s daughter speak at the induction ceremony August 8, as Ken Belson of the New York Times reported. Sydney Seau is still technically her father’s presenter, but ceremony organizers will replace the customary presenter’s speech with a five-minute highlight montage and prerecorded comments by Sydney that do not mention concussions, CTEs, suicide or anything uncomfortable or real about her father’s legacy.

Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan said family presentations tended to get “redundant" following the highlight montages, and heaven forbid anyone repeats themselves at a ceremony when old guys congratulate each other about how much tougher they were than today’s whippersnappers. Executive director David Baker veered off message, however: “We’re going to celebrate his life,” Baker said, “not the death and other issues.”

So Sydney Seau is the valedictorian reduced to holding a flag at graduation, lest she embarrass the principal by exercising a little freedom of thought. It’s cowardly, even by football’s lofty standards, to allow all the legends to chest-bump and bro-hug and tell the old by the light of the jukebox yarns but refuse a 21-year-old woman the chance to say, on her own terms, just what her father’s sacrifice really means to her. This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s call, not the NFL’s, but that makes it worse. There’s no reason for league higher-ups to whitewash the shield when independent operators are so eager to do it for them.

Denis Poroy/Associated Press

So Sydney will remain silent. But what happens after the highlight montage? The Hall of Fame induction ceremony is not the Academy Awards. The orchestra won’t swell. Billy Crystal won’t tell a gentle joke. No disembodied voice will announce “Ladies and Gentlemen: Mick Tingelhoff” while stage lights dim and backgrounds change. There’s a presenter’s speech, and then there’s an acceptance speech. Bronze busts cannot talk, and they cannot walk off the stage under their own power. Someone has to say a few words to put Seau’s career and his life into perspective, then stand beside the bust and smile. Organizers have foregone the acceptance speech before, for legends of bygone eras, but never for someone so fresh in our memories as Junior Seau.

It won’t be you, Leslie O’Neal. You are on vacation. Jason Taylor and Tedy Bruschi? Fishing trip together. Old ink-stained scribes of the San Diego Union-Tribune and other papers that covered Seau? You are just too darned busy with training camp coverage.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has never been a sugarcoated fantasyland. It’s not a dumbed-down Gridiron Greats Coloring Book. The enshrinement ceremony has always featured battered, bent men hobbling to the podium, looking older than their years. It has always been about men left broken, or flat broke, when their playing days ended. The busts have always told stories about war, race, segregation and social change in addition to championships and touchdowns. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has always been about death and other issues, because it is part of the celebration of life.

Denis Poroy/Associated Press

The Pro Football Hall of Fame tells the story of Reggie White, dead at 43, enshrined posthumously, his son introducing him, his widow giving the acceptance speech, both of them, well, speaking.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame tells the story of Mike Webster, dead at 50, homeless, penniless and racked with physical and mental illnesses for most of his post-football life. It tells the stories of others who suffered a hundred different ways from the ravages of a sport that both gave generously and took away mercilessly.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame requires us to approach with the wide-eyed wonder of children, but with the wisdom of adults. The first story it ever told was of Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian Industrial School: one of America’s greatest athletes, his career made possible by cultural eradication. The latest story it tells is of a player who did not know the risks he took each time he launched his body at another human, and the price he and his family paid. These are important, grown-up stories.

But the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants to shield our eyes like children. Or, more appropriately, shield its own eyes.

If silence is what the Pro Football Hall of Fame wants, then silence it should get. If you are asked to give Seau’s acceptance speech, turn the honor down. Tell them you have laryngitis. Tell them you have stage fright. Or tell them the truth that we are all thinking: that you believe Sydney Seau should be the one who gives the speech.

That goes for all of you: all the old Chargers, the Patriots and Dolphins, the USC teammates and high school coaches from Oceanside. All of the people who loved Seau most of all can show their love with silence. Make the Pro Football Hall of Fame toss one of its own low-level functionaries on the stage to mumble off a Wikipedia entry while the audience shuffles and coughs. Or let’s turn a moment of silence into 15 minutes of silence we each keep in our own way: by remembering Seau’s greatness, lamenting his loss or remembering how evils of all kinds go unchecked when powerful people choose to ignore them.

Winslow Townson/Associated Press

And then, when the silence and discomfort ends, Tim Brown can take the stage. Brown, Seau’s friend until the very end, can tell America that he wants to hear Sydney Seau speak.

Then Jerome Bettis can say he wants Seau’s daughter to speak. Then Will Shields. One by one, each player who has felt the pain, who has felt the fear, who wakes up dizzy or creaky or has spoken to an old teammate who is no longer the same or has grown old too young can demand to hear the voice of a young woman who lost her father to an illness he did not understand.

Chances are, that young woman will have a lot more to say about the father than the illness.

Let’s fight the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s conspiracy of silence with our own silence. Respectful silence, but also awkward silence and shameful silence for those who fear the speaking of the truth. Turn the Hall of Fame down. Put a megaphone in front of the Seau family’s absent voice.

Of course, if the Hall asks me to give Seau’s acceptance speech, I will jump at the chance. But trust me, right now it would be much better off with Sydney Seau.