The case of Johnny Rodgers is a great example of a Heisman winner overcoming personal issues and adversity. But it’s also illustrative of how the times have changed.
He grew up in Omaha. He ran away from home at the age of 14 to Detroit, but came back after one year. By the age of 15, he had already been stabbed and had shot another kid in the stomach. Shooting craps was his biggest source of income. In 1970, he and a bunch of friends stole $90 from a gas station. He received probation for the crime, but later served 30 days in jail for driving with a suspended license. Many saw him as college football’s bad boy. Despite his actions and his shady image, he was able to stay with Nebraska and lead the Cornhuskers to a national title in 1971, while winning the Heisman in ’72.
If Rodgers were playing today in this hyper-intense media environment, he probably would’ve been run out of Nebraska on a rail. He would’ve been kept as far away as possible from the football field.
It’s interesting that in this day and age, when we consider ourselves more open-minded than, say, 40 years ago, the penalties get meted out with such swift justice (mostly to placate the court of public opinion), while the supposedly close-minded era of Rodgers’ time was more quick to forgive and allow for possible redemption.
Or maybe they just wanted to win at any cost back then, too.