Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the top candidate for college football’s greatest individual honor, is under investigation for sexual assault. Tallahassee police are being criticized for mishandling the incident, which happened nearly a year ago. Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle is one of 870 Heisman voters, and he wrote a blog post this week titled, “Take my Heisman vote—please.” Lutz joined Bill Littlefield.
Littlefield: Bob, what led you to make that plea?
Lutz: Well, it used to be fun to vote for the Heisman. I’ve been doing it a while now, and I’m honored to be one of 870 that get to make this decision. I’m a big believer in the value of the Heisman trophy, not only to the winner but to the institution of college football. But when you’re faced with the decision like this year where one of the prime candidates is under investigation, as you said, and it appears that we won’t have a resolution to this issue before the vote is due, it makes it extremely tough to know exactly where to go. I’m not one who wants to give my Heisman vote to somebody who days or weeks later is going to be arrested for sexual assault.
Littlefield: The Florida state attorney’s office has said that a decision on whether to charge Jameis Winston will not come until after Heisman votes are due. Even an indictment would not mean a guilty verdict, but it sounds as if that would be enough make up your mind?
Lutz: Well, it’s just such a role of the dice. I mean, I’m totally a believer in ‘you’re innocent until proven guilty’ and under those parameters I suppose the wise thing to do would be to say, ‘Hey, until there’s some kind of at least charge brought against Jameis Winston, then how can I hold him accountable.’ But, you know the Heisman does include a character clause.
Last year that came into play with Manti Te’o and Johnny Manziel, who eventually won the award. And this year it’s again an issue, and that’s something that you hope as a Heisman voter that you don’t have to weigh character issues when you’re voting for supposedly the best player in college football. So, I still consider him to be the front-runner. I think people will have a dilemma when it comes time to vote, but I think we’ll all cast our votes for Jameis Winston because he is far and away, in my mind, the best on-the-field candidate.
Littlefield: Winston, Manziel, Te’o, Cam Newton, and Reggie Bush are all candidates or past winners whose off the field actions have been seriously questioned. Has the prestige of the Heisman trophy been diminished by the bad behavior of some of the athletes who’ve been finalists?
Lutz: The Heisman trophy, as I said earlier, still has prestige for me. But I’m a little scared to vote for Jameis Winston, and if I were to vote today, even though I do think he’s the best player, I would probably give my vote to A.J. McCarron, the quarterback of Alabama, rewarding McCarron for a tremendous career and multiple national championships. And it would not bother me in the least to see him win a Heisman trophy.
Littlefield: Bob, I was reluctant to even have this conversation. Given the severity of the accusations against Winston, it seems frivolous, if not irrelevant, to discuss who will win a bronze statuette. Have you found yourself wishing you could ignore that ballot completely this year?
Lutz: You know, as I said in my blog post the other day, ‘Take my Heisman vote, please.’ So if anybody’s out there that wants it. The problem is, if you don’t use your Heisman vote, you lose it. And I suppose there’s a certain amount of prestige in voting for the Heisman trophy. I’ve enjoyed the process over the years. I think the Heisman trophy is a fantastic honor and a fantastic award. It’s just been a little difficult to sort it all out the last couple of years.