RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And it's time now for sports.
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MARTIN: The biggest individual award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, was given out last night. And the winner was no surprise: Jameis Winston, quarterback for Florida State University. He hugged and kissed his parents and laughed through much of his speech, but there was a lot of controversy surrounding his potential win, which Winston hinted at. Let's take a listen.
JAMEIS WINSTON: I trusted in the process that evaluate facts and its truth is delivered with positive outcomes.
MARTIN: Earlier this year, Winston was accused of sexual assault. The state prosecutor later decided not to press charges but the case still loomed over the Heisman selection process. NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to talk more about this. Hi, Mike.
MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello.
MARTIN: So, we're going to get to the ethical issues surrounding the winner in a moment. But first, why is the Heisman such a huge deal because it really is, right?
PESCA: It's so iconic and no one - I watch college basketball and they'll almost never be talking about the race for the Wooden Award, which is the best, MVP, I guess, in college basketball. And while there are some debates about who's going to win this or that, MVP in baseball - they don't even talk about the award. No one knows what the award looks like. So, I think it's a few things. I think it's the iconography of the award. And I think it's the award, the physical award itself. I think that it transcends sports. You know, there's the phrase about giving someone the Heisman. And I think that it's wrapped up, you know, college football. You go back to the old newsreel footage of the kids in the beaver skin coats crowding into phone booths and, you know, there is some college football player running down the sidelines. So, I think there's a lot of nostalgia with that particular sport.
MARTIN: As we mentioned, the debate over Winston's candidacy for the Heisman focused on questions about this rape allegation. He was never charged but it didn't mean that this whole thing just evaporated, right?
PESCA: Yeah. He wasn't exonerated, and I don't think that too many members of the news media used words like that, said, you know, he was innocent. It was - if you read, as I did, the entire 82-page report and hundreds of more pages, you know, you have to look at the victim, and that's what the state prosecutor kept calling her, even though he said he was going to decline to press charges. The victim never really waivered from the assertion that this was a rape. They just thought it would be hard to prosecute. It's a decision that prosecutors make all the time. They thought they couldn't get a conviction.
So, the news media pretty much took this and digested it and would say like the prosecutor declined to press charges, which is accurate. And I have sympathy. I mean, I'm someone who does reports sometimes in 40 seconds. You can't get into every level of detail. But when you watch this award ceremony, there was just the idea, you know, the way Jameis Winston said it and the way some commentators were saying it that this was, you know, a hurdle for him to overcome. And it wasn't that. And it was a very sticky ethical situation that some of the Heisman voters themselves publicly talked about grappling with.
MARTIN: Because there's a lot of confusion about this, right? Many sports writers feel that there is a moral component, a character component to the Heisman trophy.
PESCA: Yeah. Or they think there should be. And it is a little confusing in that there is a mission statement that the Heisman trophy says it's based on, a lot of factors, and one of them is integrity. But on the official ballot, there is no mention of integrity. There's a mention of the player being eligible and the player being excellent, but no mention of integrity. And my position is if the Heisman trophy wanted their voters to factor in integrity, they would put that on the ballot. And because it's not on the ballot, is the Heisman, the trust, taking a stand? And whether it should be on the ballot? Obviously, they think it shouldn't be, or it would be.
MARTIN: And with that, we will leave it there. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks so much, Mike.
PESCA: You're welcome.
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MARTIN: And you are listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.