The Heisman Hesitation
My ballot for the Heisman Trophy should be arriving any day now.
This is the first year I can remember not looking forward to it.
Sport’s most famous trophy is suddenly under siege. It was bad enough when 2005 winner Reggie Bush decided to become the first player in the history of the award to give it back, after USC had been nailed with all those allegations relating to him.
Now, for the first time in the middle of a season, we have a new crisis, the Cam Newton controversy.
Shortly after Auburn’s extraordinary quarterback became the clear frontrunner for this year’s award, the whispers began. Now they have developed into a full roar, with stories alleging Newton and his father asked Mississippi State for money in order to win his services coming out of junior college. Earlier this week, other stories surfaced of Newton’s possible academic cheating while at Florida.
Now another story has alleged that actual recruiters from Mississippi State are saying both father and son told the school that they wanted cash to play there.
How much, if any, of this is true remains to be seen, but along the college football grapevine now you hear stories that this is a kid who “always had baggage.”
However this turns out, members of the Heisman Trophy Trust must be shaking in their expensive suits. This is a hallowed award, one that is supposed to be determined by character as much as raw ability.
Bush already sullied that description, and now the last thing trophy officials need is for someone to come along whose performance is worthy but whose character is questionable.
Newton is already that guy. Auburn coaches can claim otherwise, but the dark cloud of uncertainty will be hovering over their exciting quarterback the rest of what so far has been an almost magical season for him and his unbeaten team.
The Heisman people must be grimacing at the thought of handing the cherished trophy to yet another player who could be found guilty of accepting illegal gifts, cash or otherwise, shortly after receiving the award.
Those of us who are Heisman voters are in a quandary, too. If you asked me to make out my ballot today, I would not hesitate to write in Newton as my top pick. He’s easily been the best player I’ve seen so far.
And there is no proof any allegations involving him are true. Until you know otherwise, you have to go by what you’ve seen on the football field.
Besides, the argument could be made that the consensus No. 2 choice at the moment, Oregon’s gifted running back LaMichael James, is hardly a role model candidate himself. Before the season even started, James was involved in a domestic dispute with his girl friend and was suspended from the opening game by Coach Chip Kelly.
Welcome to the exciting world of modern college athletics, huh?
For those of us who have been voters through the years, this is a sad time. Always before, it has felt like an honor to fill out the ballot. It is something I’ve tried to take seriously, watching and following the candidates as close as I can, attempting to make sure I vote for the one who is most deserving.
It has been an exciting and fascinating task. In past years, whenever I’ve opened my mail box and seen the envelope with the ballot in it, I’ve always smiled in anticipation. Not this year, though.
This year, like many of my fellow voters, I’m already feeling the strain, the pressure and the reluctance.
Call it the Heisman Hesitation, and let’s all hope it is just a one-year malady.
— STEVE BISHEFF