by Greg Burton
I am one of about a dozen sports reporters in Virginia that vote for the Heisman Trophy,
the iconic award given to the most outstanding player in college football.
I’ve had a vote for about five years. I take it seriously, checking stats and game recaps from players around the country each Sunday. What am I looking for? Simply, I vote for the college football player that had the best season. Not the best player or the most valuable player. I think it’s darn near impossible to identify the BEST player in all of college football. It could be a left tackle or middle linebacker but it’s difficult to quantify their value and compare it with positions that rack up eye-popping statistics like touchdowns or rushing yards. That is why, traditionally, the Heisman trophy winner (and most of the candidates) have been quarterbacks or running backs. Occasionally, a defensive player gains some attention like Ndamukong Suh in 2009 (he finished 2nd in the voting).
I have talked with dozens of other Heisman voters over the years and, while each may have some subtle differences in their evaluation, most end up relying on statistics. It’s really all you have and, because of that, the award has remained one that honors quarterbacks and running backs.
This year, for the first time since I was a voter, a new factor was ejected into the voting: integrity. This became an issue when Florida State quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Jameis Winston became the target of a sexual assault investigation. If you are not familiar with the story, you can read the details here.
Last week, the state attorney in Florida decided not to charge Winston. Prior to that legal decision, many Heisman Trophy voters were contemplating not including Winston on their ballot. The voters cited the Heisman mission statement as the rationale for their stance.
Here is the exact text of the mission statement pulled from the Heisman Trophy website: The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award.
How can the Heisman Trust have integrity in the mission without a clear definition? Is it
on-field integrity? Is it integrity of the vote?
Sports reporters across the country believed they could not vote for someone who might be charged with sexual assault or any felony for that matter. Even though Winston had not been charged with anything, the thought of him winning this prestigious award and then being charged with felony sexual assault was too much to bear for some voters.
I did not feel that way. I never considered excluding Winston from my ballot.
(Due to an agreement with the Heisman Trust,
I am prohibited from revealing my vote until the award is announced Saturday night.)
Here’s why: I can only evaluate what I know. At the time, Jameis Winston had not been charged with a crime. After reading some details of the case through public record, it seems he, at the very least, exercised poor judgment and, worse, may have taken advantage of an intoxicated female. However, I have covered and witnessed too many legal cases where there was a rush to judgment after the court of public opinion had already made up their mind. We must let our judicial process run its course and allow due process to take place.
That being said, I wish the Heisman Trust would better define or elaborate the element of integrity. We should celebrate it and honor those who exercise it on and off the football field. I love college football but it has become one of the most corrupt and greedy sports entities anywhere. If the Heisman Trophy wishes to return to the values on which it was founded more than 75 years ago and recapture the reverence this award once held, the Heisman Trust will re-evaluate and more clearly define the parameters on which we judge the contenders. And integrity will stand side-by-side with statistics. Until then, it’s just another award.
Greg Burton is an award-winning sportscaster for more than 20 years. He currently hosts an afternoon sports talk radio show in Richmond. Burton has been an instructor for the Center for Sport Leadership for five years. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @hardlyworkin950