Sweetness And Light
4:58 am
Wed December 11, 2013

Should Character Count In Sports Awards?

Originally published on Wed December 11, 2013 10:10 am

The Grammy nominations are in, and the talk now is of what actors will be chosen for the Academy Awards, but not once have I heard anyone suggest that any of the singers or actors may not be nominated because of some character deficiency.

Likewise, when it comes to awards in theater or television or dance or literature, I don't ever recall any candidate losing out because of a personal flaw.

Only sports applies that peripheral off-the-field standard. Most recently, of course, this has come up with respect to Jameis Winston, the star quarterback of the top-ranked Florida State team.

Click on the audio link above to hear Deford's take on this issue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Our Commentator Frank Deford has been thinking about the athletes we honor.

FRANK DEFORD: The Grammy nominations are in and the talk now is of what actors will be chosen for the Academy Awards, but not once have I heard anyone suggest that any of the actors or singers may not be nominated because of some character deficiency. Likewise, when it comes to awards in theatre or television or dance or literature, I don't ever recall any candidate losing out because of any perceived personal flaw or moral deficiency.

Only sports applies that peripheral off-the-field standard. Most recently, of course, this has come up with respect to James Winston, the star quarterback of the top-ranked Florida State team. Winston was considered to be a shoo-in for the Heisman Trophy, until it was revealed that he might face charges for sexual assault. Immediately it was speculated that enough of the more than 900 Heisman voters - profound football experts, all - might change their ballots and vote for some lesser, purer player.

However, then, when the state said there was not enough evidence to bring charges against Winston, we were advised that he had a clean enough slate not to have his football record trumped, and he would surely win the honor come this Saturday.

Make no mistake, though. Voters have every right to judge the person as well as the player, as the declared Heisman measure is of excellence with integrity. This is rather like, most famously, he who might make it into the baseball Hall of Fame can't just be plenty good, but also must embrace, not only integrity, but also sportsmanship and character.

Should any of this personal essence matter? Well, how would you, the jury, decide in the clear-cut recent case of Bob Hewitt, who was voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1992? In the past few years, several adult women have accused Hewitt of raping them, when he was their coach and they were minors. He won't go on trial in South Africa till January, but the evidence against him appears overwhelming.

The Hall of Fame thus suspended Hewitt and removed all evidence of his existence on a tennis court. So, a monster Hewitt may have been revealed to be, but is his record as a player any the lesser that he is heinous? What say ye, jurors?

Perhaps because it is so physical, I think sport always feels a little insecure alongside the other arts. There is the image of the dumb jock. Does anybody ever say the dumb violinist or the dumb diva? So sport tries to build up its stars, not only as talented players but as wholesome, exemplary human beings. Actors and musicians can merely be artists, but sports likes to boast of angels and heroes.

INSKEEP: You can hear Frank Deford's commentary here every Wednesday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.