As a lifetime and long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan, Jim Porter certainly knows the history surrounding the franchise and all that aura that comes when visitors to central Ohio make a stop to the birthplace of professional football.
That’s why when Porter received a call asking if he would be the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s next president, there was no hesitation in accepting the position.
Porter, who was hired by the Hall in 2020 as the chief marketing and communications officer, isn’t necessarily a football lifer. He comes from the newspaper business world, having spent six years as the CEO and publisher of The Canton Repository.
The 57-year-old Porter, who called his promotion “a very humbling and pleasant surprise,” takes over for David Baker, who retired in October after seven years at the helm.
In his nearly six weeks on the job, Porter says he is still getting acclimated to aspects of the job but insists that the mission is the same: to honor the heroes of the game and to preserve its history.
“The responsibility of what the Hall stands for is on everyone that works here. So, I gave them the message, that we all work for the Hall, no one works for me. And we are all going to do it together,” Porter told USA TODAY Sports.
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Porter says keeping the Hall of Fame relevant is another goal, and as each year’s list of semifinalists and finalists are debated, there is no shortage of chatter about what a Hall of Famer is.
“A Hall of Famer is based on being one of the all-time best at their position within their era and for what happens on the field,” Porter said.
While Porter’s definition about who deserves to receive a gold jacket and a bronze bust in Canton seems cut and dry, others are not so sure.
Deion Sanders, who is a 2011 inductee, questioned the resumes of players the Hall have inducted in the last few years.
“Is it a guy who played a long time? It’s so skewed. Once upon a time a Hall of Famer was someone who changed the game and who made you want to reach in your pocket and pay your admission to see that guy play,” Sanders said on the Dan Patrick Show days before Super Bowl LIV. "That’s not a Hall of Famer anymore. Every Tom, Dick and Harry, you’re a Hall of Famer, you’re a Hall of Famer. They let everybody in this thing. It’s not exclusive anymore. And I don’t like it.”
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who is headed to Hall whenever he decides to hang up his whistle, echoed those sentiments.
"The Hall of Fame's out of my control, and since there's no criteria for the Hall of Fame, it's really hard to even have a conversation about it because it's not based on anything,” Belichick said last month. “It's your opinion on a great player, my opinion on a great player, somebody else's opinion on a great player. I don't know what that means.”
Belichick believes three of his former defensive players – Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork and Rodney Harrison – should be among the next to be enshrined. Seymour and Wilfork were named semifinalists for the 2022 modern-era class, while Harrison did not make the cut.
The list will be cut down to 15 finalists next month, before the final class is officially announced on Feb. 10 at the NFL Honors awards show.
While character has become a topic in Hall of Fame discussions, most recently with the candidacy of Terrell Owens, Porter said that for now, voters should concentrate on “accomplishments on the field.”
Because the by-laws don’t say anything about a person’s character or transgressions, on or off the field, there have been calls for the voting process to be more transparent.
Currently, there is a process that allows up to five modern-era candidates, one contributor, one senior member and one coach to be inducted each year.
That will stay in place until 2024, but Porter says he plans on revisiting that topic after the Super Bowl and didn’t commit to advocating for having more or fewer inductees each year.
“We are putting more players on the field than the other sports, so logic would say there is more to look at,” Porter says.
For now, changes to releasing how the votes are tabulated are not forthcoming due to this year’s class not being fully selected yet, but Porter has talked with selectors and has had ongoing discussions on this issue.
“If these 49 folks are the ones being asked questions about why this person didn’t get in or why this person got it, they ought to have some input into how this is all done,” he said. “The integrity of this voting process is so important because as the integrity of the process goes, the integrity of the Hall of Fame goes.”
But for now, the focus on making the Hall of Fame and its surrounding area bigger and better is at the forefront.
The Hall of Fame Village, which will include a hotel and indoor waterpark, is being constructed by a separate entity outside of the Hall. The $900 million project is slated for completion in 2023. There are also no plans to change the building structure, which opened in 1963, or its iconic dome.
"I am going to try to elevate this hall and this game to a point where the people who watch and participate in it, see that is it actually a game for life," he said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New president of Pro Football Hall of Fame on mission to keep HOF relevant