Friday, December 11, 2015

Fumbled Opportunity

You'd be hard-pressed these days to identify the single most scum-baggish thing about politicians and the media but allow me to take a shot by calling them out for the way that they disingenuously use the men and women of the military to impress us with their patriotism. The politicians are the worst as they litter the campaign trail with promises to improve veterans services then do next to nothing once they're elected. It's a massive cluster fuck of an injustice that is frankly way beyond anything I'm qualified to write about.*   

So let me climb down onto a smaller soapbox to address a far more minor military related clusterfuck of an injustice. The clusterfuckers in this case were ESPN (shocker), the Heisman Trust (see . . . we put the word "trust" right in our name) and several hundred sportswriters who once again made it clear that they shouldn't be allowed to vote on anything more significant than the first two rounds of American Idol. The wronged party in this case was Naval Academy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.  

Keenan Reynolds has been the starter at Navy for the past four seasons. He is college football's all-time leader in rushing touchdowns with 83. So far in 2015, he has led Navy to a 9-2 record and a top 25 ranking while rushing for 1,093 yards and 19 touchdowns (tied for second most in the country). Based on his performance, the ESPN "experts" added him to their Heisman Trophy experts poll which in turn meant he was listed on the fan ballot for Nissan-ESPN's Heisman House fan vote, a contest that would award the winner one actual vote for the Heisman Trophy. Soon after he was placed on the ballot, Reynolds took the lead in fan voting for obvious reasons that had nearly everything to do with his impending military service. I mean who wouldn't vote for the guy from Navy? (Besides SEC fans). 

"I don't know how the names
get on the website. Who do
I look like Harry Potter?"
In his most recent game against 19th ranked Houston, Reynolds passed for 312 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown. A few days later, his name was removed from the fan ballot. When ESPN was asked why the player leading in the poll would be removed from the ballot, their public relations department coughed-up the following explanation via email: "When the names change on the ESPN Experts’ Poll, they automatically change on the Heisman House site. ESPN and Nissan have no control over what names are on the Heisman House ballot.

That pathetic hollow explanation would seem lame enough if that's where the story ended but, after a minor public outcry, it was announced that Reynolds' name would be put back on the ballot. Apparently, amid a showering of well-deserved boos, ESPN and Nissan found the magic button that took them from having "no control over what names are on the Heisman House ballot" to having full control over what names are on the ballot. Funny how being loudly called-out for doing the wrong thing makes people realize that the option of doing the right thing was available to them the whole time. Maybe one of these days ESPN will avail themselves of that option before someone has to hand them a map showing them how to get there.**

With his name back on the ballot, Reynolds won the fan vote with 40% to 32% for Alabama running back and probable winner, Derrick Henry (no other player received more than 3%). Based on the Heisman poll, his career accomplishments, his strong 2015 season and the fact that, upon graduating, he will serve as an officer in the United States Navy, many expected that the Heisman Trust would invite Reynolds to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York this Saturday. They didn't. 

Now it's no surprise that Reynolds didn't receive enough votes to qualify for an invitation. As noted earlier, most of the voters are sportswriters who treat their ballots as if they will ultimately be burned to create white smoke rising from the Vatican. So, despite the option to name up to three players on the ballot and the fact that most of them never see some of the candidates actually play, they likely deemed their ballots too hallowed to include a player from a lesser conference. Even when that player lapped the field in the intangible qualities that are supposed to be factored into the voting process (more on that in a second).

We do, however, know that Reynolds received some votes because the fans gave him one and he got a couple more from past Heisman winners and Naval Academy graduates Roger Staubach and Joe Bellino who wrote in a joint statement, that "[i]f the voters carefully read the mission of the Heisman Trophy, the first person that should come to mind is Keenan Reynolds." The "mission" to which they refer is the Heisman Trust Mission Statement which begins: "The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." You know, like Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston ("But I thought the crab legs were free").

"I'm looking at you Mr. Booster."
So why not just invite him anyway? Well, applying Kanell logic, the invitation process is either run entirely by soulless computers or the Heisman Trust and ESPN didn't recognize the opportunity they had. The Army-Navy game is this Saturday at 3:00 p.m. in Philadelphia. The Heisman Trophy ceremony starts at 8:00 p.m. Arrangements had already been made to fly Reynolds from Philadelphia to New York by helicopter for the ceremony where he would have appeared in his Navy dress uniform. To say it would have been inspiring would be an understatement.

It's just hard to fathom that ESPN and the Heisman Trust would whiff on this considering how much the media likes to hype their own "salutes to service." It doesn't even make sense from a business standpoint as Reynolds' presence at the ceremony would have increased ratings. And imagine the goosebump inducing video they could have produced interweaving his highlight runs (and there were many) with examples of the hard work and commitment it takes to graduate from the Naval Academy. Either they considered all of this and decided it was a bad idea or they failed to consider it altogether. Either way, they're inept.      

To invite Keenan Reynolds would have been the equivalent of going for two to win on the final play of the game except with absolutely no risk of failing. What possible downside could there have been? Baker Mayfield fans protesting outside the ceremony? (The fact that no one outside of Oklahoma knows who Baker Mayfield is kind of proves my point). It would've been such a simple gesture that would have meant something to all members of the military and it was right there in front of them. All they had to do was invite him. Instead, they decided to kick the extra point and play for overtime . . . and they fumbled the snap.


* If you want to read something about this cluster fuck that's written by someone qualified, t
he Washington Post published a Pulitzer Prize winning in-depth report on the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center back in 2007 which apparently served as a wake-up call to a whole bunch of people including those responsible for the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I'm pretty sure someone got fired. Beyond that, not much has changed considering that veterans are still waiting too long to get substandard medical care at shoddy rundown facilities.   

** Earlier this week, ESPN's Ryan Russillo and Danny Kanell, who have a radio show that should be called "Mommy Look at Me," decided to devote ten minutes of airtime to explaining how ESPN was actually the victim in this controversy. There were two plausible scenarios according to Kanell: (1) ESPN had no control over the process and was therefore being unjustly criticized or (2) ESPN hated Keenan Reynolds. This is straight out of the 24 hour news channel Jedi mind-trick textbook of offering two explanations for something, one that makes you look good and another that's too outrageous to be true so the listener is left with only the option of believing the one that makes you look good. Except in this case there was a third option as ESPN effectively acknowledged that it screwed-up when they fixed their mistake by putting Reynolds back on the ballot. Just admit that your company botched it Danny and get back to talking about what you and Ryan do when you're not talking about each other on the radio.  

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