Many Halls Of Fame, Only One Bob Hayes In the world of sports, halls of fame proliferate. There's even one for mascots. But Frank Deford says it's still good to see a deserving athlete enshrined — in this case, a football legend once known as "the World's Fastest Human."
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Many Halls Of Fame, Only One 'Bullet Bob' Hayes

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Many Halls Of Fame, Only One 'Bullet Bob' Hayes

Many Halls Of Fame, Only One 'Bullet Bob' Hayes

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Another pro football player who went to jail is on the mind of commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD: I'd forgotten that my old friend Bob Hayes was going to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this Saturday past. Of course, that's easy to forget. Baseball is the only hall of fame which stays in the news. Good grief, people are arguing about who should get in the Cooperstown 10, 15 years from now. The Baseball Hall of Fame is used as a punitive device. If you don't eat your vegetables, you won't get into the Hall of Fame.

Sometimes I get the feeling that nobody really cares that much about what steroids have done to real, live baseball today, but only how they'll affect an inanimate red-brick building in Cooperstown, New York in the distant future.

Anyway, Baseball's Hall of Fame became so famous, it spawned multitudes more. Halls of fame are about the only places in this republic where a person can be enshrined. I was so happy Bob Hayes got enshrined at Canton, Ohio, even if he had to wait till he was dead.

But everybody gets enshrined now. There is even a hall of fame for team mascots. There are six halls of fame for professional wrestling alone. Are the enshrinements fixed?

It certainly is better to be enshrined in death rather than not at all, but it's too bad Hayes didn't live long enough to be enshrined in life. Bullet Bob was a sweet guy who unfortunately got mixed up in drugs. Not steroids. He didn't need anything artificial to make him the world's fastest human. He got involved with what we call recreational drugs and spent time in jail for it, and that diminished so much of what he'd done when he was young and fleet. The Olympic people pretty much disowned him.

He won the gold medal in '64 almost as a sideline, for he concentrated on football in college. He ran all wrong, like he was pounding grapes into the ground, one track coach said. Lord knows how fast he could have run if he'd been able to work at it, but he was so speedy on the football field that he sort of inadvertently invented the zone defense because no other human being could cover the world's fastest human one-on-one.

So very few athletes reach the top of the tree in two sports. It may never happen again, because there is such specialization now. Hayes, for example, would never even have played pro football if track had been a professional sport then. Why should I get beat up? he asked me.

He also told me something else about being the world's fastest human. After that, Bob said, you can only go down. And, yes, his life after he wasn't so fast anymore was mostly sad. But he got himself clean and content, and so he deserves, at last, to be enshrined. Hail Bullet Bob.

WERTHEIMER: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each week from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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WERTHEIMER: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

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And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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