The Heisman Trophy, which will be awarded by the Downtown Athletic Club in New York on Saturday night, goes to college football’s best player. But it doesn’t always go to its best citizen.
For the most part, Heisman winners have gone on to have productive careers becoming successful doctors, lawyers, businessmen, military leaders and professional athletes. But there are exceptions.
The 1968 Heisman winner, Southern Cal running back O.J. Simpson, is far and away the most infamous of the 76 holders of the award. Even though he was acquitted of murder in the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, a civil court awarded the families of the two victims $33.5 million from Simpson in a wrongful death suit.
In 2007, Simpson was arrested in Las Vegas and charged with numerous felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping, and in 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years in prison. He is currently serving his sentence at Lovlock Correctional Center in Lovlock, Nev.
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Billy Cannon, the only Heisman winner from LSU, had his problems with the law, as well. Despite establishing a successful dental practice after his 10-year professional football career that included stops in Houston, Oakland and Kansas City, the 1959 Heisman winner became involved in a counterfeiting scheme. Cannon printed more than $50 million in $100 bills that he stored in an ice chest and then buried in the backyard of one of the rental houses he owned. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, serving 2.5 years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas.
After serving his sentence, he was hired as a dentist at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La., as a contract employee. He so impressed the warden at that prison with his work that he was hired full-time to revamp the entire medical practice at that facility. He is still there today, where inmates call him “the legend.”
Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers, who won the Heisman in 1971, is the only winner to be convicted of a felony before receiving the award. While a student at Nebraska in 1971, was convicted of a gas station robbery that netted him $80, and he served two years of probation. In the late 1980s, he had more legal problems after threatening a cable repair man with a gun after the repair man tried to shut off Rodgers’ service. Rodgers took his Heisman Trophy to the sentencing to try to show that he was a star, but the judge was not impressed, sentencing him to six months in jail.
Rodgers got his life together after that incident and went on to finish his degree at Nebraska and is now a successful businessman in his hometown of Omaha, where he also mentors children along with other football and sports standouts.
South Carolina’s George Rogers, the 1980 winner, has had his issues with drug-related arrests through the years. While playing for the New Orleans Saints, he was involved in a drug scandal in 1982 and underwent treatment in a drug rehabilitation center. He was arrested in 1990 on another drug charge after traces of cocaine were found in his right nostril. He has overcome those problems and works at his alma mater in public relations and fund-raising and speaks out against the drug culture.
Whoever wins this year’s Heisman, whether it’s Stanford’s Andrew Luck, LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III or -- my pick -- Alabama’s Trent Richardson, let’s hope we don’t see their names on a police blotter any time in the future.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org