Last week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio removed a 2010 photo of Aaron Hernandez from a gallery that celebrates excellence in professional football photography. The 2010 season was Hernandez’s rookie season where he excelled and showcased his innate abilities. In week 2 of the 2010 season he became the youngest player to have over 100 receiving yards in a single game since 1960. A football superstar was born. The photo in question captured Hernandez strutting into the end zone during a game against the Green Bay Packers. So why was the photo removed?
The photo’s author, Mary Schwalm, is rightly upset that the photo has been removed from its place in history. The photo was selected at the end of the 2010 season as the recipient of the Dave Boss Award of Excellence and earned the right to hang in a gallery at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was selected by a panel of photography experts as the best professional football photo of the year. It was not selected because of the person highlighted in the photo, it was selected because of its composition.
Visitors complained upon seeing it in the HoF. The HoF decided that in the interest of public outcry that it would be best if they took it down. Is anyone currently offended seeing Ray Lewis and the Ravens celebrating their 2012 Superbowl win at the HoF’s theater? Back in 1994, this article about OJ Simpson’s bust, shows that the HoF had no plans to remove Simpson’s likeness from the museum, despite some of the public complaining about it. Granted those murders are far from the forefront of the public’s mind now. Maybe since we are ten, fifteen, twenty years on from those trials, it’s acceptable to continue to celebrate those men and their achievements without having to remember how they tarnished the image of themselves, their teams, and this sport we all love so much.
Mary Schwalm did nothing wrong and yet her achievement is being punished. Was she supposed to know that two and a half years ago she was taking a photo of someone who would one day become a murder suspect? No. Her achievement in professional photography has been discarded because the Patriots, the HoF, and the NFL in general are worried about their image. Distancing themselves from an accused killer is the smart, business minded thing to do. But the wrong person is being punished here. Mary’s artwork should be celebrated for years to come. It’s a photo that captures the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, aptly titled “Thrill and Agony”. To know that from now on, there will be an empty space in the HoF where her artwork should hang is sad and disappointing.
I was thrilled when the Patriots organization announced they would be exchanging out old Hernandez jersey’s for any other player’s jersey. I don’t want little kids idolizing a suspected murderer and wearing his jersey when they may not understand the scope of his actions during the time of an innocent man’s death. That, to me, punishes Hernandez. This action by the HoF, doesn’t seem to be anything but bowing to the whims of a few people who can’t appreciate art for art’s sake. They should stand behind their decision of selecting Mary Schwalms artwork to hang in their museum. It is a gorgeous picture. Instead they’re taking away something she rightly won and deserved. It is sad times when art can’t just live as art and is instead subjected to the media image cleaning machine.
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