Heartbeat of the Heartland: The Baker Mayfield Edition


ShakeGate led to CrotchGate which sparked OverreactionGate which … OK, OK. Fine. Too much “gate” cliché usage. But a tired and overused catch-all label that has been around since 1973 is somewhat appropriate.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley announced Monday that quarterback Baker Mayfield will not start the regular-season finale against West Virginia nor would Mayfield be designated as one of the Sooners’ captains. This is an appropriate punishment for an ill-advised sideline stunt by the senior quarterback and likely Heisman Trophy winner.

A few hours earlier Monday, Kansas coach David Beaty used his appearance on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference to apologize.

“First of all, that was absolutely unacceptable. I’ve had a conversation with (Oklahoma coach) Lincoln Riley, and I’ve apologized on behalf of myself and our team,” Beaty said. “I want to also apologize to really our stakeholders, our Jayhawk fans, Jayhawks currently and all of the ones before us, because it means more to be a Jayhawk. That was a situation where we needed to make a better decision there.”

This announcement and apology comes down to the most basic of sibling arguments: “He/she started it.”

When the captains met at midfield in Lawrence Saturday, the Kansas trio – linebacker Joe Dineen, defensive end Dorance Armstrong and defensive tackle Daniel Wise – made it a point not to shake hands with Mayfield. The Jayhawks clasped their hands behind their backs and kept their heads down. Mayfield tossed his head back and clapped his hands three times … with vigor.

That shake snub set the stage for the chippiness to come. The Jayhawks’ defense, led by Dineen and Armstrong, took advantage of strong winds at their backs to limit Oklahoma’s offensive attack in the first quarter.

Near the end of the first half, Kansas defensive back Hasan Defense blatantly roughed Mayfield after he had rolled out and threw a pass. Defense was called for roughing the passer. That play was an exclamation mark on a half that also featured Mayfield and other Sooners getting in verbal spats with the KU coaching staff.

In the second half, starting with the wind at their backs, the Sooners started to roll. Following his third touchdown pass of the game, Mayfield was shown on the OU bench. He removed his helmet, grabbed his crotch and could be seen yelling “blank you” at the Kansas bench.

Mayfield apologized after the game. Beaty took the wrong tact, defending his captains’ lack of sportsmanship by saying, “You’re going to defend your grass. … I understand where they’re coming from.”

The reactions late Saturday and into the night were mixed. Some said it could cost Mayfield some Heisman votes (not that any lost votes will probably cost him the award) and others (correctly) said it was simply an unfortunate, hot-headed incident involving a high-profile player. This obscene gesture by Louisville defensive back Ronald Walker went largely unnoticed because…who has heard of Ronald Walker?

As of early this holiday week, here are some reaction meters to The Mayfield Affair:

Oklahoma fans: More focused on a probable rematch with a dangerous TCU team in the Big 12 championship game.

West Virginia fans: Would prefer that Mayfield be suspended for the game so the Mountaineers would have a better chance of winning. After all, WVU will be without starting QB Will Grier, sidelined with a broken finger on his throwing hand.

Oklahoma State fans: Can’t react to anything. They’re in shock after the Cowboys lost their third home game of the season to underdog Kansas State.

Texas fans: Thankful to be bowl eligible and thankful not to face Mayfield anymore.

Media supporting Baker Mayfield: Disagree that he should have been punished at all.

Media opposing Baker Mayfield: Believe the OU quarterback should be disciplined in the manner President Trump thinks LiAngelo Ball should have been punished.

Your Veteran Scribe: It was a “meh” Saturday of games, ESPN was televising OU-KU, ergo ESPN decided to make the Mayfield story viral. It’s how the media works in 2017. Everything is grist for the mill. Every action has a reaction of unequally large proportion. And the dirty little secret is this: All media outlets crave personalities who move the needle. But if a personality like Mayfield moves that needle into the red (danger zone) then instead of praise for being quotable the personality is criticized for being hateable.

Mayfield’s story combines inspiration with exasperation. He’ll become the first former walk on to win the Heisman. But along the way he has had more than his share of viral moments that have engendered polarizing reactions: He’s a college student having fun or he’s an entitled college athlete jerk. Mayfield has issued three public apologies in the last 11 months so he’s “the most polarizing player in college football.” (And even this top 10 compilation leaves out his arrest for public intoxication.)


Mayfield was wrong to react the way he did during Saturday’s games, but his emotions define him as a player. Ever since he was snubbed by recruiters after his senior season in high school, Mayfield has fueled his outstanding play with the burning desire to prove the world wrong. That never-let-up mentality can exhaust the rational thinking process.

In his three seasons as Oklahoma’s quarterback, he is 14-0 in true road games and seven of those games have come against ranked foes. He has proven himself worthy has a competitor and a teammate. During his news conference when he was talking about his three-year coach/player relationship with Mayfield, Riley had to pause for about 30 seconds when his emotions took over.

Baker Mayfield displayed how much it means to Baker Mayfield to not be a team captain in his final home game. Again, emotions.

Emotions – plus the willingness to pay five bucks for a cup of coffee – are one the major reasons homo sapiens have separated from the other species. Love. Hate. Anger. Happiness. Sadness. Fear. Joy. Trust. Disgust. Without those feelings, we’re all just salad without the dressing. The coming of AI (artificial intelligence) won’t replace, can’t replace a person’s ability or need to express his/her emotions…to let it all out.

Controlling emotions in the heat of competition comes with experience and maturity. Mayfield has played four seasons of college football but he’s also 22 years old. He has and will continue to learn.