After winning the Heisman Trophy last year, Johnny Manziel quickly learned his behavior off the field was under scrutiny as the holder of the most prestigious award in college football. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston got the message even before he won the Heisman when his candidacy was threatened by an allegation of sexual assault against him that became public in November.
Their experiences sparked a debate leading up to Saturday night’s Heisman presentation in Manhattan about whether a player’s off-the-field conduct should matter as much as his football statistics. But as Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who finished as runnerup to Winston, noted a couple hours before the ceremony, there really should be no debate.
Asked if conduct should be a consideration in the voting, McCarron said, “I do. I think it makes the award pure. The people that came up with the Heisman Trophy said that in the mission statement, so, they obviously truly believed it should be for the award. So, I’m going by that…That’s the way I try to carry myself on and off the field. But however they want to vote they vote.”
Sure enough, the first sentence of the mission statement on the website for the Heisman Trust reads this way: “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” The statement goes on to say the trophy “symbolizes the fostering of community responsibility and service to youth.”
Manziel ran afoul of that tradition with some of his party-boy antics in the wake of his victory last year, and when public criticism and ridicule mounted, his first reaction was anger and the urge to tell his critics to put it where the sun don’t shine.
But a year later, he is a far more reflective person with a greater understanding of the responsibility of the award and how it changed his life. Asked for his advice to the winner, Manziel said, “Life’s going to change. This is a big deal. There’s a lot of cameras, a lot of mics, a lot of flashes and a lot of fame coming from all of this. You’re going to have to adapt to how life is going to be after this.”
Manziel said the winner still must be true to himself, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to change. “There’s a lot of scrutiny if you don’t walk a fine line,” Manziel said. “I was little bit uncharacteristic, a little bit out of the box, and I caught a lot of flak for it. I figured it out as the year went on and continued to live my life and learn. It was tough, but I had to do it.
“I didn’t ever want to be a different person, but you have to adapt and you have to get used to that this is how life is going to be. No matter how bad you want things to be like they were before and just live a normal life, those days went out the window for me. I have accepted that fact, and I’m fine with it.”
Manziel sounds as though he has come to agree off-the-field performance is important when asked if a code of conduct should be associated with the Heisman. “I think it comes with the trophy,” Manziel said. “You can set the trophy on the table right now and look at it, and the thing oozes tradition and a higher standard.
“But Jameis Winston [is] 19 years old. He’s a freshman in college. He’s got a lot of life left ahead of him to live and learn and grow up. It’s going to be a whirlwind for a little bit, but you’ll get used to it.”