Heisman Trophy Football

NCAA college football player, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, left, hugs his coach Ed Orgeron after he is announced as the Heisman Trophy winner, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in New York. (Todd Van Emst/Pool Photo via AP)

In winning the Heisman Trophy in New York on Saturday, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow stirred the hearts of Tiger fans around the world. His acceptance speech also resonated in the broader civic life of Louisiana, yielding lessons of value far beyond the gridiron. What Burrow said was a lovely gift for the holiday, something to treasure because it touched on themes all too rare in public discourse these days: humility, comradery, compassion for others.

At the highest levels of American society in what’s been a frequently dispiriting year, we’ve come to accept leadership as an exercise in vanity, one in which those at the top routinely use their position to inflate their sense of self.

How refreshing, then, to see the 23-year-old Burrow begin his remarks at the Heisman ceremony by tearfully thanking his teammates. He followed that emotional expression of gratitude by acknowledging his parents and his coaches, particularly LSU Coach Ed Orgeron. Burrow recognized, too, his previous home region of southeast Ohio, tragically touched by poverty, and his adopted state of Louisiana, where he now feels at home.

Louisiana has loved Burrow back – not surprising, since this is a state that embraces underdogs. Our storm-tossed history has taught us what it means to prevail over hardship. It’s why Louisiana welcomed to the New Orleans Saints a young quarterback named Drew Brees, an athlete written off because of previous injuries who nevertheless led the team to victory in the 2010 Super Bowl.

Burrow’s own injuries as a player at Ohio State essentially sidelined him, but as he reminded listeners on Saturday, Orgeron – and, by extension, the rest of Louisiana – gave him as second chance at LSU.

It’s a moving story, one that strikes a particularly deep chord in a state that needs to believe in redemption right now. In Joe Burrow, Louisiana has an emblem of youthful vigor, qualities not often associated with the state in recent years. Too many of our young people are leaving, and not enough of them are moving in. The challenge will be to make a state that promises success in diverse fields to many others of Burrow’s generation.

That must be our mission in 2020 and beyond. For now, though, Louisianans can take time to celebrate the stellar accomplishment of Joe Burrow, who’s acted like a champion on and off the field.