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Culture & Religion

What the Heisman Nominations Say About America

For a number of obvious reasons, the announcement of the annual Heisman Trophy nominees is among the more-anticipated events in sports. For one thing, it’s one step closer to awarding one of this country’s most-heralded trophies. The actual trophy design itself is a thing of legend. For another, the list of nominations gives American sports fans a glimpse of some of its favorite archetypes. This year, however, reveals a fascinating shift in that American iconography.

We all know those classic sports profiles. The coach’s son, the small-town gym rat, the underprivileged overachiever. Sports fans love hearing these stories because they remind them how great the opportunities America offers can be. But a quick look at this year’s Heisman nominees could show some of the fundamental changes going on in American society.

It starts with the two quarterbacks who were runner-ups last year, Texas’ Colt McCoy and the former Heisman winner, Florida’s Tim Tebow. Both young men are easily the two most instantly-recognizable figures in amateur sports. They’re both hugely athletic and successful, incredibly charismatic, and are already legends at their respective academic insitutions. But in a fascinating glimpse at a changing America, both men are devout Christians, with Tebow even vowing to remain celibate until he is married. But considering the CDC’s findings on sexual activity among American students this decade, Tebow’s declaration shouldn’t be too mind-boggling.

In fact, the one athlete among the nominees who should appear most obvious, is actually something of an anomaly. The son of a former NFL player, Alabama’s Mark Ingram actually grew up in Flint, Michigan. While the children of pro athletes are actually under-represented in Heisman voting, no member of Alabama’s historic football program has ever won the award. Conventional college sports archetypes are further deconstructed with the remaining two nominations.

Stanford’s Toby Gerhart is majoring in Management Science and Engineering and was his high school valedictorian while Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh was born to a Cameroonian father and Jamaican mother and was raised in Oregon. For a variety of reasons, these aren’t the conventional profiles we’re used to seeing when running down the list of Heisman finalists. It’s not an unwelcome phenomenon, but more than anything else, it might be a unique glimpse into America’s constantly-shifting student culture.


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