Controversy follows Hayes into the Hall


POSTED: Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bob Hayes is one of the first football players I heard of when I was a little kid. Never really thought about him as a track guy until later. Didn't yet know much about this thing called the Olympics that was always linked to his name.

As I grew older, I kept hearing and reading that Hayes was a fraud, a guy who belonged in a singlet and spikes, not a helmet and shoulder pads.

Never bought it.

Whenever I saw him play, he seemed as tough, strong and good as the other 21 players on the field. Just faster ... way faster. If the word “;gamebreaker”; wasn't invented to describe him, it should've been.

They talk about game changers now. He changed the entire game, forever, as defenses tried to adapt to world-class speed.

As his football career progressed, he gradually shed the ironic stigma of two-time Olympic gold medalist, a sprinter supposedly posing as a football player.

But then a real stain, one symbolic of the times in the late '70s—drugs. That's what kept him out of the Hall of Fame until now. Sadly, Hayes doesn't get his due until seven years after his death.

So now, finally, the Hall of Fame, in the last year of his eligibility. But, when it comes to Hayes, even the greatest individual honor a football player can achieve can't be without commotion and questions.

This one clearly belongs in the bizarro file. A woman whose claim as Hayes' sister is disputed by other family members reads a touching letter on a national telecast that Hayes supposedly wrote and gave to her.

Some super sleuthing by The Dallas Morning News worthy of Gil Grissom uncovers that it is impossible this letter could've been written before Hayes' death. Seems the style of type didn't exist yet.

What the font is going on here?

Also, there are claims Hayes' signature on said letter was forged.

This has led to a lot of family squabbling, played out in the national sports media.

I met four of Hayes' family members, disputed and undisputed, yesterday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. They seemed joyful as they should be, celebrating long overdue acknowledgment of a loved one's great career.

Whatever their differences, it appears they've put them aside, at least for now.

Bob Hayes Jr. said all the drama will make the family stronger.

“;Sure. I mean, ever since this little ordeal started, we've been getting lots of call from other family members, supporting us. We don't break easily under pressure.”;

The woman who may or may not be his aunt, Lucille Hester, possessor of the questionable letter, sat three seats down—Bob Jr.'s mom and undisputed aunty Georgette between them.

When I ask Lucille if the others had acknowledged her as Bob's sister, she says nothing. She just continues smiling and looking me straight in the eyes. Because she bears a striking facial resemblance to Bob Hayes, I believe she is telling me, “;Come on, silly, figure it out for yourself.”;

We learn over the years, if we're lucky, to mend old rifts and accept the flaws of those in our lives for the better of the group.

Bob Jr. stops short of accepting Lucille as his father's sister, but said yesterday he bears her no ill will.

His father was fast. So fast he changed the way football is played.

But even Bob Hayes' ghost can't seem to out-run controversy when we should merely be celebrating his greatness.