By winning the Heisman Trophy, Marcus Mariota—an Asian Pacific American of Polynesian descent—is the best college football player in the land.
This wasn’t the math contest, the quiz team, or the science competition.
This was big time college football.
Mariota, a redshirt junior quarterback from Oregon via St. Louis Prep, the Catholic boys school in Honolulu, became the first ever to win from Hawaii.
And the first ever Heisman recipient to say “Thank you” in Samoan.
In his breathless, teary eyed acceptance speech, he thanked his coaches, teachers and his parents, Toa Mariota and Alana Deppe-Mariota.
The 6-foot-4, 219-pound Mariota also thanked what he called his St. Louis brotherhood for keeping him “always mindful and faithful.”
He thanked friends for teaching him “humility and respect.” At that point, Mariota choked up, regained composure and added: “Two aspects of life I will never change.”
Not even when he signs his first multi-million-dollar NFL contract?
Mariota proves you don’t have to be a brutish lout to be a killer football player. This is a mature young man filled with goodness and humanity.
Why don’t we see more of these types developed on the college gridiron?
To see Mariota speak after winning was so refreshing.
There was no grandstanding. No mention of his 3,783 yards passing this year; 10,125 for his career. No mention of the 38 touchdowns this year vs. just two interceptions. He’s got 101 touchdowns for his career vs. 12 interceptions.
Mariota’s numbers are dazzling. But the man was practically “bling-less.” He was remarkably “un-showtime.”
Instead, he kept revealing the kind of special guy he was.
In his first two sentences he talked about being humbled in such a soft-spoken way indicating genuine humility.
And as he went through his litany, he gave a shout out to the broader Polynesian community, watching him as one of their own. “I hope and pray that this is only the beginning,” Mariota said.
But then he turned the focus to young people who may see themselves in him.
“To young Poly athletes everywhere,” he said. “You should take this as motivation and dream big and strive for greatness.”
One person who was mentioned only once, when he was announced as finishing 6th in this year’s voting, was Florida State’s Jameis Winston—last year’s Heisman.
Winston had a decent year at quarterback with 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns, as he led FSU to a No.2 ranking.
But his quarterback rating was about 40 points lower than Mariota.
And then there’s the matter of allegations of rape and sexual assault that Winston is still battling.
That almost made it a certainty there would be no repeat Heisman. But Winston will get a chance for at least football redemption when No.2 ranked Florida State goes up against Mariota’s Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
In the meantime, Mariota’s squeaky clean image may be the best thing in a long time for college sports.
A genuine student athlete has been named the best football player of the year.
You no longer have to imagine that. Marcus Mariota is for real.
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok