SOUTH BEND – Perhaps the most tired reason given as to why certain actions are performed, decisions made and consequences rendered in life is “Because that's how we've always done it.”
Why have political parties always (outside of the rare third-party candidate) throughout history nominated a white male for the presidency?
“Because that's how we've always done it.”
Why did the British troops wear brightly colored red uniforms and march into the path of gunfire in straight lines?
“Because that's how we've always done it.”
And in sports, why has an offensive player – or in the case of Charles Woodson, a defensive player who also contributed scoring through special teams – always been the recipient of the Heisman Memorial Trophy?
Again, “because that's how we've always done it.”
Well, Barack Obama showed that history can be altered, camouflage was developed to the great appreciation of foot soldiers and their mothers everywhere, and tonight, revolutionary and creative thinking should make its presence felt at the Heisman Memorial Trophy ceremony in New York (8 p.m. ESPN).
It is time for the voters of the Heisman Memorial Trophy to actually follow what the Heisman Memorial Trophy Trust has stated is its mission since 1935. Yes, I know that it's a crazy concept, but for the first time in 77 years, how about the voters actually read the mission statement and act accordingly?
It's time for all college football players to be eligible for the most prestigious individual honor bestowed in the sport, not just quarterbacks, running backs and the occasional wide receiver. After all, that is what the mission statement says is the criteria for the award.
Notre Dame senior Manti Te'o is one of three candidates for the award, and quite frankly, if the mission statement is to be followed at all, this should be a landslide victory for the Fighting Irish linebacker.
“If a guy like Manti Te'o is not going to win the Heisman Trophy, they should just make it an offensive award,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said recently. “Just give it to the offensive player every year and let's cut to the chase.”
Of course, Kelly is demonstrating an understood bias toward his player. However, regardless of the year, school and player involved, Kelly is absolutely correct. If the voters are going to blatantly ignore the mission statement of the Heisman Memorial Trophy Trust, then the mission statement needs to be altered.
The mission statement reads as follows: "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."
I'm not an attorney (and no, I haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn Express recently), but please help me understand how and why a linebacker isn't worthy of legitimate consideration in that statement.
This is not to denigrate the other two candidates (Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein), who both appear to be excellent representatives of their universities and football programs. However, when you invoke the words “pursuit of excellence,” Te'o clearly rises above them.
Te'o helped lead Notre Dame to the No. 1 ranking in the nation, and the Fighting Irish have remained perfect through a dozen games this season.
Kansas State has been beaten and is ranked behind four teams, while Texas A&M has lost twice and sits behind eight other programs.
So what is your definition of “excellence,” and which player do you believe is most fitting of it?
Not only has Te'o helped his team to be considered better than any other this season, he has also excelled individually.
The Irish have the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, and Te'o leads that unit in tackles with 103, which is 42 more tackles than any other member of that unit.
He also leads Notre Dame in interceptions (seven), pass deflections (11) and fumble recoveries (two).
Te'o's nine turnovers generated are the most in the nation, and his seven interceptions are more than any linebacker not just this year, but in over a decade.
Neither Manziel nor Klein led the nation in any offensive category.
Still pondering that word “excellence"?
Let's study the words “integrity, ability, diligence, perseverance, and hard work,” which are also central to earning the Heisman Memorial Trophy. Who better to deliver an opinion on the matter than a person of leadership, who has witnessed on a daily basis Te'o's impact on his university, athletic department and community?
“Athletically, Manti has never compromised on the pursuit of excellence,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said recently. “He has embraced fully the obligation of everyone at Notre Dame to be a member of the community, not just the football community but the larger community of the university, and environment in which we live.
"He has demonstrated a commitment to service, service of others. Manti has all of the talents of a rare leader. He has an awareness of when leadership is needed; he has an understanding of when to act; and he acts with compassion and a thoroughness which gets results.”
To do what is just and right is clear. It's taken nearly eight decades, but the time for action is at hand.