So they told us, they didn’t ask, not to reveal publicly how we voted for the Heisman Trophy. Not until the winner was named Saturday. I’ve been voting for the Heisman for almost 30 years and, once again, as becoming too commonplace and tiresome, athletic impact would have no influence on my decision.
Thank you, Cam Newton (2010 winner) and Johnny Manziel (2012) and Jameis Winston (2013) for making me grind on one of the Heisman committee’s instructions to voters: “In whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” Apparently sexual assault, drunken bar fights and stolen laptops weren’t integrity issues that prevented them from winning their Heisman.
Do I really need to honor and respect all the words in that phrase? I could always look on the bright side. None of them was Johnny Rodgers. Rodgers of Nebraska won the Heisman in 1971 after robbing a gas station of $80. So he became the first and so far the only college player to win the Heisman AFTER committing a felony. Besides it was only 80 bucks. That might not even pay the tab for a dinner for two at a decent Yountville restaurant.
The Heisman people didn’t take away O.J. Simpson’s 1968 trophy after Juice found himself in the center of the Trial of the Century for the murder of his ex-wife and friend. Maybe it’s because O.J. is still keeping his promise that he made back in 1994; he’s still looking for the murderer. Haven’t found him/her yet. Have to admire his determination.
So all these roads led inevitably and directly to Baker Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback who posted in the past two seasons the two highest passer ratings in NCAA history. On the field, Mayfield had no equal.
You could say the same thing of Mayfield off the field.
Right now an university student in this country in pursuit of a doctorate in psychology has already begun research into this thesis: “The Fraudulent Emphasis Of Character In College Athletics.” This season Mayfield at times looked like he needed a distemper shot to subdue his inner rage at anything he perceived as a threat.
His emotion had an understandable backstory. No one offered him a college scholarship out of high school. He was a walk-on at Texas Tech. He was a walk-on at Oklahoma. He may not even be 6 feet tall. He was a no-talent Lilliputian in the forest. Baker, there’s always barber college.
Yet, through the force of his sheer will and talent only he believed in, Mayfield became the most discussed college player in any NCAA season. While running along the sideline Mayfield grabbed his crotch to taunt a visiting student section. He has thrown out the F-bomb like it was confetti. He told Baylor players he was their Daddy. He planted an Oklahoma flag on Ohio State’s field. He shouted to Kansas fans: “You have one win, stick to basketball!”
Last Feb. 25 in Fayettteville, Arkansas, Mayfield was arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest. Most embarrassing, as he fled, the cops caught him and tackled him, leading to snickers about his foot speed.
In other words, in so many ways, Mayfield was acting like your typical college kid. Loosely tethered to maturity, if not disengaged altogether, Mayfield was acting his age. There are a thousand Baker Mayfields on every college campus. None of them, however, was up for the Heisman.
How upset was the Oklahoma administration? He didn’t start against West Virginia, the Sooners’ last game of the season. He missed the first two plays of offense. That’s it. The players and coaches love Mayfield. They say he’s a great guy. He’s also a great guy who quarterbacks a 12-1 team that quite likely will play for the national championship.
So who did I vote for? Mayfield, of course. In the shifting sands of Heisman interpretation I have redefined my voting standards. Unless a candidate is in jail or is awaiting jail or a trial, I shrug. Have to. That decision I can live with.
However, this is the part that troubles me: What do I tell my son or kids who want to excel in sports? When I speak to a high school class or teams in the Empire, will I be able to use Baker Mayfield as a teachable moment? Will high school athletes look at Mayfield and see a football player or will they see someone who was permitted to push the bounds of decency? Will they think to themselves — “If you can win the Heisman acting like that, then how bad can it really be to grab your crotch on television?”
It is the same conundrum that faced voters who awarded Manziel, Newton and Winston. Sports does not live in a vacuum. It thrives in conflict, because of conflict. Sports needed that tension; it’s the oxygen that makes it move to heroic heights … or abysmal face-plants.
Try grabbing your crotch in public, throw out a F-bomb and then call attention to it. The reaction will be more than a snicker. This should make you think. I wonder if it will.
To comment on Bob Padecky’s column contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.