It was at least 15, maybe closer to 20 years ago when a Heisman Trophy ballot landed in my mailbox for the first time. It was pretty heady stuff to be added to an exclusive panel to choose the annual winner of college football’s most prestigious award.
It turns out it’s not quite the exclusive club I envisioned. There are about 800 voters. Far more importantly, some of the luster has been scraped off the word prestigious. It seems like a good time to surrender my vote.
It’s not because a freshman won for the second straight year. If a freshman is the best player in the country, so be it.
But there is more to it than simply being the best. The award, when conceived of in the 1930s, defined itself as recognizing “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
That’s a tough one in this day and age because integrity seems in shorter supply. Maybe it always has been. Maybe a never-ending news cycle and a different approach to reporting puts every little wart on the front page where in the olden days, when athletes were dressed as heroes and role models, all the negatives were perhaps swept under the nearest rug. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I’m tired of checking my moral compass at the door. Three of the last four winners have carried baggage. I voted for two of them, including 2013 winner Jameis Winston of Florida State, and I’ve felt at least a little dirty in doing so.
Enough is enough. I seem to recall voting for Reggie Bush in 2005 too. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me two, three or four times, shame on me.
There’s little question Winston was clearly the dominant player on the most dominant team in college football this season. But there is at least a little question as to whether he sexually assaulted a young lady in an incident that avoided any serious scrutiny for almost a year.
When it was finally investigated, the state attorney’s office in Florida determined there was insufficient evidence to file charges. There’s a chance it was consensual sex and the girl apparently wasn’t in a condition at the time to remember now. We’re left to make our own decisions on what should constitute assault, I guess.
Not being charged does not exactly equate to a verdict, one way or the other, in the court of public opinion. Winston wasn’t exactly exonerated, but like a lot of Heisman voters who awaited the legal analysis before voting, and with serious challengers in short supply, I shrugged and put his name atop my list of three finalists.
How many of us believed Cam Newton may have been shopped to the highest bidder before leading Auburn to a national title in 2010? A year ago, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M ran afoul of the law before the season, but still snagged the Heisman after it. He was a candidate again this year despite an early slap-on-the-wrist NCAA suspension that lent credence to the suspicion that he accepted improper financial benefits.
And so it goes.
We can ponder the legal system and the process that was followed in Florida, and we can certainly, endlessly debate the rights and wrongs of some NCAA rules and restrictions.
And, speaking of debates, look how many times in the past decade the Heisman has been under the microscope for the wrong reasons.
It seems like integrity will continue to be juggled in this process. I’ve had enough of calling my own into question, too.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.