As the state representative for the Heisman Trophy Trust, I struck up a conversation with a Heisman voter about his 2017 ballot. Just asked if everything was in order, if he had it all figured out, that kind of thing.
He told me his top choice would not be who I might think.
Then he told me he intended to leave Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield off his ballot entirely — not first place, not second place, not third place.
This particular voter said he holds fast to the Heisman’s mission statement:
“The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. The winners of the trophy epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust’s mission is to ensure the continuation and integrity of this award.”
And this conversation took place last Thursday, before Baker Mayfield grabbed his crotch and shouted expletives at the Kansas bench.
(And please save the lecture that this voter should have his vote revoked. It’s his ballot, not yours. He determines what he thinks fits the “most outstanding” definition, not you. He gets to decide the three names on it, not you. If you think people shouldn’t be allowed to vote because they don’t vote like you want, then you really are part of a much larger problem.)
The reality is this: Anyone who thinks Mayfield won’t lose Heisman votes after his vulgar display hasn’t been paying attention. He will.
And anyone who thinks Mayfield won’t still win the 83rd Heisman by a comfortable margin is just pretending. He’s been that good. His lead is that big. His dominance over the rest of the field is that pronounced. Among the 14 Franchise hosts and producers who submitted a ballot for this week’s Franchise Heisman Watch (see the voting results below), Mayfield received all 14 first-place votes. (The Franchise has seven of Oklahoma’s 22 official Heisman voters on air, including three hosts.)
Where does integrity fit in the equation for Heisman voters? Cam Newton easily won the Heisman despite all kinds of season-long concerns about his integrity, and his father’s (82 percent of the total points, fifth all-time). Jameis Winston easily won the Heisman after more than a year of significant integrity issues (79 percent, seventh all-time). And Johnny Manziel easily won the Heisman, though his real transgressions came to light after he received the award (72 percent, 11th all-time).
(Interesting how, years later, all three still have lingering issues about their integrity.)
Mayfield might have challenged Troy Smith for the highest percentage of points (92 percent), but he won’t now. Oh well. Mayfield still will win the Heisman in 2017, easily, because, by most measures, he’s America’s most outstanding college football player.
But should he?
I’ll leave that to the voters, who are compelled to not reveal their vote until after the award presentation (Dec. 9 this year), if they choose to reveal it at all.
There are two schools of thought on Mayfield: 1, if he was playing for your team, you would at best unconditionally love him, and at worst simply forgive his repeated and petulant antics in the name of holy victory. And 2, if he’s not on your team, you admire his game but you despise everything he stands for otherwise, the crotch-grabbing, the flag-planting, the drunken police-evading, the trash-talking.
This column won’t change anyone’s mind, and that’s not the intention.
But the thought here is that Mayfield is very much this generation’s Brian Bosworth without the punky haircut. He is the game’s preeminent smack talker and also its best player. He backs up every bit of his belligerence with touchdowns and victories. That personality endears him to some, repels him from others, and that’s OK.
If Mayfield thinks he needs to walk that edge to play at his best, then let him. If he crosses the line sometimes, that’s on him.
But feel free to judge Mayfield, too, if you must.
Saturday began when KU captains refused his pregame handshake. Mayfield then took repeated cheap shots from a lousy Kansas team, and it torqued him off. The whole thing wasn’t like adding fuel to the fire, it was like adding a nuclear blast to a nuclear blast.
The moral high ground would have been for Mayfield to score the touchdowns and get the win and then smile and wave from across the way at his tormentors, who, by the way, lost their 10th game in a row and should be ashamed of themselves for stooping to play that kind of football. It was dirty, and it was inexcusable. They deserved the beat down and they probably deserved some additional level of punishment, embarrassment, humiliation.
But Mayfield should be ashamed of himself, too. If you don’t think so, just ask Mayfield himself.
“I am extremely sorry for how I carried myself today,” Mayfield wrote in a statement that he posted on Twitter after also apologizing in the postgame press conference. “I am sorry to the Kansas fans, coaches and players for disrespecting them. I am sorry to Sooner fans for not representing our University the way I should. I am sorry to any parent that had their kid(s) watching… I was not the good and inspiring role model that I aspire to be.
“What I did was unacceptable and in turn has taken the attention off our team. Not to mention my solo act reflects poorly on my team/program… Which is the opposite of what I want to do. I want my teammates and coaches to get all the attention and credit for working hard and having success. I am an extremely competitive player once on the field, but that does not excuse and never will excuse my actions today. I am truly sorry from the bottom of my heart.”
So please don’t defend Baker Mayfield for his actions. Forgive him, of course, if you choose. Forgiveness is one of humanity’s greatest qualities. But don’t defend him.
Mayfield, in his third public apology this calendar year, doesn’t want you to defend him. He doesn’t even try to defend himself, nor should he.
Heisman voters can vote for Mayfield if they want. Or they can snub him. The choice is theirs.
Week 5 Franchise Heisman Watch
- Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (15) … 45
- Bryce Love, RB, Stanford … 23
- Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville … 8
- Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin … 8
- Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State … 4