The Heisman Trophy is not merely an award honoring the player who has the best season in college football. Apparently it's more than that -- way more. The Heisman Trophy is a testament to morality, courage and persistence. As an honor reserved for those with the highest moral virtue, it's on its way to becoming the football equivalent of canonization. Because football, as you know, is religion.
Hyperbole? Sure, but the hand-wringing by voters over whether to vote for Auburn's Cam Newton is nearing a record for self-importance. Should they vote for him with all the rumors and reports of impropriety swirling around him? Should they vote for someone else just in case?
It's an award. It's an honor. It isn't a bestowal of some holy imprimatur.
Assuming the NCAA does not rule Newton ineligible before the deadline for voting, the answer is easy: If you think Newton is having the best season in college football, cast your ballot for him; if you believe someone else is more deserving, vote for that other person instead.
You're not an NCAA investigator. You're not a moral arbiter. You're not a fortune teller. You are simply a voter entrusted with deciding whose name is engraved on a trophy. It's nothing heavy, and if you feel some deep moral obligation to the Downtown Athletic Club, then you're thinking way too much. In fact, if the Downtown Athletic Club wants its winners to embody certain values, it should take the media members out of the equation and name a winner based on transcripts, public service and church attendance.
Until then, it's not the voters' business to proactively decide that Newton is on his way to becoming another Reggie Bush and therefore unworthy of the vote. After all, if the Bush debacle taught voters anything, it should be this: You never know when you might be voting for someone who did something -- or had people around him do something -- significant enough to shame the shrine of the Heisman. Who knows what skeletons reside in the other candidates' closets?
(On the topic of Reggie Bush, it should be noted that regardless of what he or his family did or didn't take, he was the most electrifying player in college football in 2005. Was anyone soiled or otherwise shamed by voting for him? No.)
And if you don't want to vote for Newton, there are plenty of plausible reasons to vote for Boise State's Kellen Moore or Oregon's LaMichael James or Stanford's Andrew Luck. That's the beauty of college football: Nothing is ever clear-cut or definitive or beyond argument. If the sport can't follow the basic rules of competition when it comes to picking a champion, why should the Heisman voters sweat something as overtly subjective as the Heisman? It's almost incumbent on them to choose someone who might not deserve to win.
Besides, how can an institution that includes among its membership Chris Weinke decide that a candidate must pass such intense scrutiny to be elected?
To be fair, there's no avoiding the issues surrounding Newton. It would be both ignorant and naive to believe there's not some kernel of truth to all the reports. But the Heisman voting is merely an opinion, nothing more. Given the glacial pace of anything related to an NCAA investigation, it's highly unlikely anything will be decided by Dec. 6, when the Heisman votes have to be received.
Unfortunately, though, opinion is where we run into a problem. It used to be that an opinion was just that, a belief someone held that someone else had the right to disagree with, sometimes vehemently. But the culture of sports -- it's mostly a media culture, to be honest -- has taken a person's opinion and elevated it to the status of character. The cult of self-esteem (the ignorant over the intellectual) has transformed opinion into self-worth. In the process, opinions have become overvalued.
People judge themselves on their picks, their fantasy teams, their ability to predict how a college player's abilities will translate on the pro level. This hand-wringing over the Heisman is the logical extension in a world where opinion trumps fact and comes to define our validity as sports fans or alleged experts.
Who wins the Heisman? If history is any indicator, and outside forces are ignored, it's Newton's to lose this week against Alabama. Still, it's not science. You can't rely on statistics, because football's relationship to statistics has always been sketchy at best; there's nothing to tell us anything of consequence about players who don't touch the ball. You can't look at it as an exercise in scouting, because if the idea is to pick the best future pro, the Heisman has been one massive fail. Jason White, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Rashaam Salaam -- voters have been notoriously bad scouts, and there's nothing wrong with that.
More than anything, Heisman voters have a history of following the zeitgeist and voting for the player who generates the most excitement and plays on a team with a chance at the championship. Without a doubt, that player this year has been Newton.
But if you're holding a vote, what are you going to do, sit around and wait for proof of two miracles before going forward with the canonization? Instead, how about everyone ignore the hand-wringing and garment-rending and vote for the guy having the best year. Whoever you feel that might be. And please, be respectful when you leave the church.