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Martin Fennelly Columns

Fennelly: An uneasy Heisman handoff

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Published:   |   Updated: December 15, 2013 at 08:27 AM

It was supposed to be closure: New York City, bright lights, big announcement, people standing, the applause, Jameis Winston holding the trophy over his head, his beaming parents, all the smiles. And somewhere out there, probably his lawyer.

Here was the dilemma for some of us:

To cheer or not to cheer?

I cheered not.

Saturday was awkward.

Winston won the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most revered individual award. Many did cheer. But there were probably more than a few people who wanted to give him a stiff arm. It will be that way again, next month, if Winston leads the Seminoles to the national championship over Auburn, on just his 20th birthday.

There are some who will never believe in Winston’s innocence, despite the fact that he was not charged with any crime after an investigation surrounding an alleged sexual assault. That clearly includes his accuser. Her attorney, Patricia Carroll, held a news conference Friday, on the eve of the Heisman announcement, to call for an independent probe into the Winston case and Tallahassee police operations.

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Saturday was awkward.

How awkward?

Winston became the youngest Heisman winner in a rout, piling up 668 first-place votes, but it’s worth noting that he was left off 115 Heisman ballots, roughly 13 percent of the ballots turned in.

That tells you all you need to know.

We want our stars to do right. We want them to be role models.

Then again, we’re never satisfied, are we?

When we come across something too good to be true, we don’t trust that, either. Look at the Tim Tebow detractors, convinced no one could be that clean.

Yes, we are a fickle sports nation.

But there are real reasons to wonder if we should be cheering this Heisman winner.

Even with the absence of charges, we know that something happened that, at the very least, in no way flatters the 2013 winner of this trophy, which, in its job title, is awarded annually to the college player “whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”

Maybe we’re dreaming, or simply fools, for ever trying to link athletic performance and integrity.

Every Heisman winner can’t be Nile Kinnick or Ernie Davis, or Roger Staubach or Barry Sanders, or Danny Wuerffel.

You idolize at your own risk.

Maybe Heisman’s trustees needed to get the word “integrity” out of there a long time ago.

1959 winner Billy Cannon went to prison after his playing days. 1972 winner Johnny Rodgers was convicted of robbing a gas station in 1970 (Rodgers was pardoned and his conviction was vacated last year). Oh, and O.J.

What about 2005 winner Reggie Bush and the violations at USC? Bush had to hand his trophy back, a Heisman first. 2010 winner Cam Newton had legal issues at Florida before he won a Heisman at Auburn. 2012 winner Johnny Manziel was arrested the summer before he won the Heisman.

There are too many pedestals being built and too few people to put on them.

Still, the real deals, sometimes they come along.

We just have to be patient.

For now, Jameis Winston is a very great college football player. Maybe he will become a very great person.

“I’ve got to grow,” Winston said Saturday night. “Every day I go out there, I’ve got to be a better man.”

Saturday was awkward.

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