NORMAN — Saturday provided a reminder that the nation cares deeply about how its likely Heisman Trophy winner handles himself.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was captured on national television shouting “(expletive) you” toward the Kansas sideline while twice grabbing his crotch in the third quarter of a 41-3 win over the Jayhawks.
Mayfield, who had been irked when KU captains snubbed his handshake offer during the pre-game coin toss, made a sincere apology afterward, but it wasn’t enough to smother a raging sports debate that ignited immediately after his gesture took place.
OU linebacker Caleb Kelly was one of several players who lingered outside the visiting Memorial Stadium locker room to meet with reporters afterward. He seemed to understand the firestorm before witnessing any of it.
When informed Mayfield’s actions were caught on the ESPN broadcast, Kelly’s response was the equivalent of a cringe.
“They caught it all? Oh, man,” he said.
What otherwise would have been a sleepy football Saturday in Lawrence, Kansas, became a national headline. Mayfield led a notes package on the Los Angeles Times website and the Washington Post couldn’t help but blog up the circus show.
It’s unclear if Mayfield’s actions will impact the Sooners, tangibly, moving forward. He will almost certainly face internal discipline, as OU coach Lincoln Riley noted was possible.
The Big 12 could involve itself, but the conference was quiet Sunday, roughly two weeks away from its first championship game since 2010. Mayfield and OU (10-1, 7-1) clinched a berth in the Dec. 2 title with their latest win.
In the public arena, Mayfield underwent a speedy, knee-jerk trial. The judges and juries in a pile-on social media world made their decisions without haste.
Many fans were quick to shrug off the former walk-on’s behavior. Mayfield’s reputation of trash talk on the field is well documented, so some saw Saturday as the cost of doing business. Others were embarrassed.
The national media had its takes, too, though there was no indication his Heisman stock took a hit. He remains the leader by a mile, according to Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman.
“It obviously wasn’t Mayfield’s finest moment,” Feldman wrote, “but the fact remains that he is the most outstanding player in the country. No one plays with more emotion and sometimes that has gotten the best of him.”
Feldman continued, noting OU might be a five-loss team without its quarterback. Indeed, the national consensus about who is America’s best college football player went unchanged.
“Right now, Mayfield deserves the Heisman based on his incredible on-field resumé. He doesn’t deserve our respect,” CBS sports writer Dennis Dodd wrote. “Not after this outburst. Forget winning with class, how about winning without incident.”
Dodd was present in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year when Mayfield led OU to a 31-16 victory over Ohio State. In another move that proved divisive, the QB pretended to stab an OU flag into the turf at midfield after the game.
Mayfield’s attention-grabbing personality has become a strong magnet for cameras. His trash talk at Baylor earlier this season when he jawed with Bears players before the game and said he would remind them “who daddy is” also had a short run in the national media.
Those moments are piling up in a negative way, for some.
Lenn Robbins, a New York-based reporter with a Heisman vote, wasn’t impressed with Mayfield’s latest stunt, tweeting: “We are asked not to disclose who we’re voting [for] #Heisman. Nothing prohibits [explaining] who we won’t vote [for].”
Robbins tagged Mayfield and added the hashtag #classless.
So, OU’s quarterback is again positioned into a corner with incentive to polish up his image. It began immediately after his Saturday apology, when in plain sight he signed a number of autographs for kids waiting for him in the chilly Kansas air.
Mayfield also added a written statement of apology on Twitter.
That wasn’t necessary for his biggest fans, but it was vital for his national image, which goes beyond the Heisman race and into the offices of NFL executives who are evaluating him as a potential pick in the next draft.
“In the moment, you do something, you get caught up in the emotional stuff,” Mayfield said. “When I realized it, the coaches said something about it was when I realized that I had really messed up. The cameras are always on me. I’ve gotta be smart. That’s not something I want to do.”