Former Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers Defensive End Charles Haley has been nominated as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the fifth time. Haley went to college at James Madison University and when he finished school led the Dukes as the school’s leading tackler with 506, and was elected a two-time All-American.
Haley was drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 1986 draft and started his career as an outside linebacker. He eventually became an every down defensive end where he specialized in rushing the passer. Charles was arguably one of the most dominant pass rushers in NFL history. His list of accomplishments includes five Pro Bowl selections (1988, 1990, 1991, 1994. 1995), Haley was named an All-Pro twice (1990, 1994), he is one of only thirty players in the NFL with over 100 sacks (100.5 for his career), and finally Charles Haley is the only man to ever win five Super Bowls (XXIII San Francisco, XXIV San Francisco, XXVII Dallas Cowboys, XXVIII Dallas Cowboys, XXX Dallas Cowboys).
Haley accomplished in his twelve NFL seasons what few other professionals could, and his five Super Bowl rings no other player has matched. Of all the incredible players to have ever played professional football, none of those athletes, defensive or offensive, have five championship rings. So, why in the world was Charles Haley not a first ballot Hall of Famer?
The answer is a simple one, the Hall of Fame voters are made up of sportswriters, and Charles Haley was notoriously despised by the press. There are stories of Charles bullying, physically threatening, mocking, and yelling at the media throughout his twelve-year career. Others claim that Haley’s altercation with former San Francisco coach George Seifert, and a later run-in with then 49ers quarterback Steve Young were what pushed the team to trade Haley to the Dallas Cowboy in the first place. The tales of Charles Haley’s off-field bad behavior is what many believe are keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.
In 2002 Haley was diagnosed as bipolar and most agree that disease caused his manic behavior. Haley now manages his violent mood swings with therapy, medication, and talking about the wrongs he committed in the past. He was interviewed in 2012 and had this to say about his past,
“I don’t make excuses for my life, because I did wrong people. I hurt people.” He continued, “If my body of work, the dedication and the heart that I’ve shown isn’t worthy [of the Hall of Fame], then I shouldn’t get it. But, that angry Charles is gone. Whether I get there or not, I’m good.”
Haley clearly understands that the way he treated former coaches, teammates, and reporters was inexcusable. He makes regular apologies to those whom he wronged, and he says he feels badly about the consequences of his actions upon those he negatively impacted.
As a sportswriter, I want to make it clear that I am in no way absolving Charles Haley from his bad behavior during his playing days. I was not directly affected by Haley, and do not share the same pain that others do. But, it is important to note that Charles Haley was never arrested nor convicted of breaking the laws of this land, as some of the current NFL Hall of Famers have been in the past. Also, for every person who says that Charles was a menace off the field, there are double those who say they wouldn’t trade Haley as a teammate for anything. His multi Super Bowl winning former head coach Jimmy Johnson had this to say about Haley,
“Without question, I think Charles Haley’s a Hall of Famer. He helped two [Jimmy Johnson coached Dallas Cowboy] teams get to the Super Bowl. He was a missing piece of the puzzle when I traded for him. Obviously, we had great players, but he gave us a tremendous pass rush that we needed.”
Former Dallas Cowboys teammate and Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin summed it up best when asked about what time Haley should have been inducted into the HOF.
“Yesteryear,” Irvin replied. “I understand the voters, and I appreciate all their hard work. I really do. I appreciate them trying to uphold the dignity, the class of the Hall of Fame. I understand that. Even though the bylaws say personal situations should not be a determining factor of why or why not a player gets in, I understand humanity is real.” He continued, “So you’re going to have personal feelings. But by not putting a guy in this long, by leaving him out this long, who has clearly, clearly been such an intricate part of five championships, I think there’s hypocrisy there.”
Only time will tell if the HOF voters can forgive Charles Haley of his past behavior, do the right thing, and elect him into the Hall of Fame.
Charles Haley photo courtesy of Frank Correa of California. Follow Frank Correa on Instagram @DCBigTank
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