The Heisman Trust unveiled a redesigned website earlier this month at Heisman.com. The site features a few notable changes, including a revamped layout and a list of current Heisman candidates. However, the majority of visitors will probably miss the most notable change to the site.
The Heisman Trust’s longtime Mission Statement begins with the following first line:
The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence.
Notice anything missing in that? For years, that first line ended with the phrase “with integrity.” At some point during the Heisman’s site redesign -- or, at least, since last year’s Heisman ceremony -- those two very important words were removed.
That’s a pretty big deal for a couple of reasons. For one, the Heisman Trust didn’t publicize the change in verbiage. The obvious question is why, but my second point might hit on that: Debate surrounding the “integrity” of recent Heisman winners has largely defined the award’s current climate.
Last year’s winner, Jameis Winston, was accused -- but not charged -- of sexual assault. Johnny Manziel, who won the trophy in 2012, was briefly suspended in 2013 for breaking NCAA rules surrounding the commercialized use of his name and likeness. Before winning the 2010 Heisman, Cam Newton was investigated for allegations that his family sought money from schools during his recruitment. All of these allegations meant an award that had long touted its integrity found itself knee-deep in controversy.
Did those players have the integrity necessary to win the Heisman? There’s no definitive answer to that. The Heisman Trust’s use of “integrity” has been far too ambiguous. Because the Trust failed to adequately define the integrity expected of winners, voters have been left to interpret the Heisman’s mission on their own. That’s caused plenty of debate in recent years.
Last season, some voters claimed they wouldn’t vote for Winston after the quarterback was accused of sexual assault; indeed, Winston was left off 115 ballots entirely in 2013. Others voted for the Florida State star because he was never charged. Winston, like Manziel and Newton before him, was undeniably the best player on the field. But many voters used the Heisman’s Mission Statement as a moral compass, and one voter’s definition of integrity might significantly differ from another’s.
The Heisman Trust did not respond to a request for comment from SI.com on Friday. It’s possible the change in language means nothing. The third line of the Mission Statement still reads, “The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award.” Voters will probably always view the Heisman as a character award on some level.
But it’s also possible the Heisman Trust wants to rid itself of the moral debate surrounding the award. The Heisman is arguably sports’ most recognizable award, and first and foremost, the trophy should go to the best college football player. If the Heisman Trust wants to prevent further controversy, it needs to create detailed policies that guide voters in light of off-field incidents. Voters need to know what to do if a candidate is arrested for a crime or implicated in NCAA violations. The controversy could strike again soon with allegations that star running back Todd Gurley broke NCAA rules by accepting money in exchange for autographs. Perhaps the removal of "integrity" from the first line of the Heisman's Mission Statement is the first step in quashing that debate, but it should not be the last.