Louisiana State University’s Joe Burrow won the 2019 Heisman Trophy. Joe is from a small town in Southeast Ohio, like me. He started his college football career playing for my beloved Buckeyes. Joe’s Heisman speech was endearing. His message for the people of Southeast Ohio, important. My husband and I laughed aloud as we imagined the party that was happening on Court Street in Athens, Ohio. My heart was filled with joy. Congratulations to Joe Burrow and his family.
But before all of that…
I had a level of anxiety around the 2019 Heisman Trophy ceremony. I’ve already told you guys that I’m a thinker. I’m a Christian, Black woman who was raised in Appalachia. I know a lot of pure-heart people who love God and all people. I also know enough dark-heart racists to understand that they exist in hidden numbers larger than what you might think…policemen, pastors, and politicians at the head of the line. Even when the original story is simply about making keto rolls somebody is going to turn it into a discussion on race, which, by the way, is not a bad thing as long as it’s not hateful. This is what sparked my Heisman anxiety.
But before we get to that…
Next to Joe Burrow on the front row were two Buckeyes: the effortlessly talented Justin Fields and Chase Young, who I suspect may actually be a Marvel Avenger. Normally, I would be all in for another Ohio State player to join the Buckeye Heisman ranks with Troy Smith (2006), Eddie George (1995), Howard Cassidy (1955), Vic Janowicz (1950), Les Horvath (1944) and the great Archie Griffin who won in 1974 and 1975. This year was different. This year was difficult with two Buckeye choices, an Appalachian son, and a comeback kid. I love a good story where somebody can shout, “Look at God!” This year each of the four finalists had a shout-worthy testimony about the football journey.
As Joe Burrow embraced Eddie George, Doug Flutie, Desmond Howard, and Tim Tebow, I thought, ‘They‘ – the racists – are going to ruin it.”
The portrait of Joe Burrow sitting there with Justin Fields, Chase Young, and Jalen Hurts was powerful. Everybody knew weeks ago that Joe would win after his amazing year with the LSU Tigers. I was good with that. It’s deserving. What I wasn’t okay with was the visual of dusty bald men with swastikas and confederate flags making it a white supremacist victory. I imagined the old timers with a 18-year Macallan toast to making the Heisman great again. I cringed, then prayed when I thought of all those poor children in Southeast Ohio whose parents would use the 2019 Heisman ceremony as a teaching tool to illustrate that white people are superior to black people. As Joe Burrow embraced Eddie George, Doug Flutie, Desmond Howard, and Tim Tebow, I thought, “This is a great moment in sports and “they” – the racists – are going to ruin it.”
This year’s Heisman ceremony revealed how the toxicity of the current environment is weighing on my heart. I didn’t feel this way when Baker Mayfield or Johnny Manziel won. This feeling is new. Racism is not. Racism and separatism are not just part of America’s history. They are part of American identity — the ugly part the refuses to lay down at the hands of legislation. Some people will continue to raise their children to carry a legacy of hate so it feels like this separatist division will never end.
But it will. It certainly will. We know there is a time when we’ll all stand together. Revelation 7:9 tells us that “every nation and tribe and people and language” will stand before the throne of God. So…yeah…there’s that.
I know the cowardice smiles of klansmen and white nationalists walk the hallways of our office buildings, take our orders, and deliver our mail. They will continue to exist. Likewise, those of us who love God will continue, by His power, to pull many people from the darkness of hate into the light of love. It won’t be easy. But, it wasn’t easy for a young man from Athens, Ohio– who had been deep in the rotation for three years– to win the Heisman. But, he did. And we will win, too. Matthew 19:26 says “With God all things are possible” and I’m even more confident of this after watching those four young men with incredible stories of perseverance and faith, light up Times Square.