MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The newest inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be picked on Saturday. This comes as the Hall itself is planning a radical transformation over the next four years. It's going from a museum to a vast complex of hotels, conference centers and corporate training facilities, what backers envision as the Disney of pro football. From Canton, Ohio, M.L. Schultze, of member station WKSU, reports on perhaps the most unusual part of that project - an assisted living center for aging Hall of Fame football players.
M.L. SCHULTZE, BYLINE: When David Baker talks about the Pro Football Hall of Fame, you can almost imagine the pounding music of NFL films under his voice.
DAVID BAKER: To honor the heroes of the game, to preserve its history, to promote its values.
SCHULTZE: But Baker, who took over as president of the Hall a year ago, also sees a museum - like many sports museums - with stagnating attendance. And he sees the answer through a developers eye.
BAKER: You know, when a developer comes in and looks at a piece of property, he tries to find what's that diamond in the middle? You know, that diamond's already here in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The question is, how can we complement it?
SCHULTZE: Baker thinks the how is an eventual $1.3 billion plan that would include an assisted living center he calls Legends' Landing. It's part business, part nostalgia and part a sense of responsibility to ballplayers whose bodies, and possibly brains, have been bruised by the game.
BAKER: Can you imagine anything that would be better to help you come alive than say, hey, I love football, I love the game - this is where I want to spend the rest of my time.
SCHULTZE: Baker is sure that there's a demand for a place like this. There's already a parallel - The Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, Calif. And there are more than 160 living Hall of Fame football players. Ed Rosenberg is a social gerontologist who has studied athletes in transition. He says the Hall of Fame concept makes sense and could specialize in treating dementia, which ballplayers suffer disproportionately, but he says there's more.
ED ROSENBERG: The people that they're interacting with would understand what they've been through. They would understand what the players' careers meant to them. They'd have a type of identification that people who haven't been involved with professional football couldn't have.
SCHULTZE: Stephany Coakley is a sports psychology consultant who helps football players adapt to life after the pros. She notes that the time between the end of even a star player's career and when they're ready for assisted living is a long one. And she's not sure what's being proposed is developmentally appropriate.
STEPHANY COAKLEY: I think that there are things that you can continue to do and grow and learn and develop as you get older without stepping back to your glory days.
SCHULTZE: Still she thinks there will be a market for the project.
DAVE ROBINSON: They tried to play a passive (ph) game and the other team got aggressive and they just beat them. That's what happened. And they lost it.
SCHULTZE: Hall of Famer Dave Robinson squeezes into a narrow bench at the Diamond Grill - a 1950s-era steakhouse in Akron, Ohio - and debates what could have gotten his beloved Packers into Sunday's Super Bowl. Robinson played for Green Bay in the '60s and early '70s. He's also among the thousands of players who have sued the NFL over pensions and injury compensation. He forgets appointments a lot, but none of that has a place when he talks about his love of the game. And he says the Hall of Fame raises that to a higher level.
ROBINSON: Hall of Famers have a bond, and to be with a bunch of Hall of Famers, it's almost like a dream come true.
SCHULTZE: Tom Mack is a Hall of Fame guard who played for the Rams. He says the project's success will rest largely with the answer to one big question.
TOM MACK: Are there things to do and are there people to interact with and interface with?
SCHULTZE: The Hall's president and cheerleader, David Baker, is convinced his Legends' Landing will have plenty of both, in a unique blend that honors the past and embraces the future. For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze in Canton, Ohio.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.