Heisman Trophy Backlash: Did Race Play a Role in Selecting 2008's Candidates?

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Heisman Trophy Backlash: Did Race Play a Role in Selecting 2008's Candidates?

You've seen the candidates for this year's Heisman Trophy Award, given annually to the best college player in the country.

Or is it?

Could the award actually be given to the most publicized player? Is it, as some have suggested, a beauty contest that has turned its back on some tremendous African–American performers this season?

During the past six seasons, at least one black player has been among the top two vote recipients. So what was so different about this season? And shouldn't the award be given to those considered the college game's most outstanding players, regardless of race, religion, or location?

TyQuan Mitchell is a young man who lives not far from me. He knows I like to rake up all of the leaves in my yard before Christmas each year, so he makes it a point to drop by and help me do it— for the right price, of course. 

This year his younger brother, LaTrevious, came by and asked if I could use some help, and he stated that TyQuan would be by later to "wrap things up." I told him, "Let's get to it," and he told me that I could call him Trev.

During the first part of the day, I noticed Trev was a hard worker, having created a pile of brown leaves eight feet tall. We decided to take a break, Ginger Ale for me, 7 Up for Trev.

"My grandma said you used to be somebody," intoned the youngster. "She said she used to have your picture on the table in her room when she was growing up."

"Well, Trev," I said, "hopefully I still am somebody."

"Ah, you know what I mean," explained the young man.

Trev began to elaborate on a life well lived for just 14 years. He spoke of the glorious feeling he had when the Presidential election results were final. He told of his morning job delivering newspapers, and showed me his award—an award for the highest grades in middle school for the entire year.

We began talking about sports. After the obligatory subjects of LeBron, Tiger, and C.C., the conversation turned to football. "I like the Bears and the Browns," said Trev. After gagging, I told him I was talking about college football. "Oh, that. Well, that's all fixed up."

Turning back to grab a rake, I asked him what he meant by that comment. He advised that college football is "the rich man's game that don't mean anything on the street."

"A what? The what?" I exclaimed.

"Sure," he replied, "you know it is. Just look at who they made a big deal out of with the Heisman Trophy this year. You know who should be up there, and they're not."

Asking him to fill the leaf sack while I held out the edges, Trev explained that, in the crowd he hangs out with, Beanie Wells was the early season favorite but got passed over by an injury. And when he went down, attention should have focused on Javon Ringer of Michigan State, Knowshon Moreno of Georgia, and Daryll Clark of Penn State.

Trev listed several players who should have been finalists for the Heisman Trophy. A light summary is in order:

Knowshon Moreno RB, Georgia, 112 yards a game, 6 yards a carry, 16 touchdowns

Javon Ringer RB, Michigan State, 113 yards a game, 21 TDs

Shonn Greene RB, Iowa, 144 yards a game, 17 touchdowns

LeSean McCoy RB, Pittsburgh, 117 yards a game, 21 touchdowns

Jonathan Dwyer RB, Ga Tech, 111 yards a game, 7 yards a carry, 12 touchdowns

Donald Brown RB, UConn, 152 yards a game, 17 touchdowns

You know, the kid's got a point. Why in the world are these folks not high on any Heisman ballot? Trev has an answer: "Because certain folks want to feel good about themselves when times are hard. They did the same thing after 9/11."

A quick look at the record underscores the young man's logic. The last time we didn't have a legitimate black finalist for the Heisman was 2001, with Eric Crouch and Rex Grossman.

"That's the way it is. Someday all that might change, and we're gettin' there, little by little," said Trev, sounding more like Winston Churchill.

As the sun began to set, we worked until older brother TyQuan finally arrived to carry the plump bags out to the street for pickup. Not much was said about sports until Ty arrived.

This was a tale of two men separated by nearly three generations, going about their business, each reliving the conversation of earlier in their own thoughts.

"You mind if Ty and me come up here next Saturday and finish up?"

Putting a day's pay for a hard day's work in his hand, I spoke to Trev with a smile, "Only if you promise to take our break when the Heisman Trophy Award comes on television, so we can sit down together and watch it." He told me I could count on it. 

Let's hope the voters make a decision we can all be proud of. May the best man win, and for all the right reasons. The dreams of youth should be unspoiled; the rites of passage to an adult world will come soon enough.

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