Quarterback Baker Mayfield led Oklahoma past then-second-ranked Ohio State on Saturday, turning a 10-3 third-quarter deficit into a 31-16 Sooners rout behind three second-half touchdown passes. But the redshirt senior garnered more attention for his performance after the game, in which he grabbed an Oklahoma flag and speared it into the Buckeyes logo at the 50-yard line of Ohio Stadium.
Mayfield told reporters on Saturday that he was spurred by the memory of Ohio State singing its fight song on Oklahoma’s field after taking down the Sooners last year. That vengeance narrative ignores key context—Ohio State players and fans sing the school’s fight song after every game, win or lose, even when they get shut out—but it was enough to inspire Mayfield to play brilliantly, so we’ll let it slide. Revenge doesn’t always have to make sense.
If Mayfield had been able to get the flag to stick in the ground, Ohio Stadium would legally now be the property of the Sooners, in much the same way that America owns the moon. (Look it up—it’s space law.) Sadly, the Buckeyes’ field is made of artificial turf, and the Oklahoma banner fell to the ground. But while Mayfield couldn’t pierce the turf, he successfully infiltrated the minds of college football fans nationwide, who either lauded him as a hero (basically everyone) or criticized him as a classless jerk (about 13 percent of Ohio State fans). Regardless, Mayfield apologized on Monday:
First of all: It is impossible to apologize for picking up a flag, sprinting roughly 60 yards around the stadium with it, waving it vigorously for about 10 seconds, and then attempting to plant it at midfield. Some things are just too big and purposeful to apologize for. If I say something mean about my friend Greg and later feel bad about it, I could go to Greg and tell him I’m sorry. I couldn’t reasonably apologize if I were to climb on top of a table at Greg’s house party and rip off my shirt to reveal a full-back tattoo of me hooking up with Greg’s girlfriend next to a grave that says “HERE LIES GREG, THE ASSHOLE.” Someone within Oklahoma’s athletic department likely told Mayfield to apologize, but let’s be real: He wasn’t sorry.
More importantly, though, Mayfield shouldn’t have to apologize. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned about Mayfield throughout his college career, it’s that he believes in the power of the human body to express complex emotions through movement. We’ve seen his dancing:
And his attempt to congratulate the Oklahoma women’s gymnastics team on its 2016 national championship:
Clearly, Mayfield felt the best way to display his triumph was through an interpretative dance that culminated with him thrusting a flag into painted field turf. Oddly, this is something of a college football tradition: Georgia planted a flag on Georgia Tech’s field after a win in 2015; Michigan drove a spear into Michigan State’s field in 2014; and while Kentucky’s players lacked an object to plant at midfield after they beat Louisville in 2014, the Wildcats felt their feet would suffice.
Sure, these acts were all extremely disrespectful. But college football is at its best when respect goes by the wayside on Friday night.
There is one way to avoid being disrespected: Win. Ohio State could have stopped Mayfield from engaging in his postgame antics, but it failed to stop him for the entirety of Saturday’s second half. After he notched a win that big, giving a performance that good, Mayfield deserved to celebrate, even if that celebration was rude as hell. If there’s one thing he should have apologized for, it’s failing to get the flag to stay standing.