It’s easy to throw everything Jameis Winston has done into one large bowl of Jameis jambalaya, then let everybody in America conduct a taste test. Then we can opine semi-seriously about whether he is a bad guy or misunderstood or if he simply doesn’t get it while making jokes about stealing crab legs. But that would be a mistake. You can’t throw all the accusations against Winston into the same pot.
There are really two accusations against the Florida State quarterback; they are very different, and one continues to obscure the other.
One accusation is that he behaves like a doofus. The evidence is ample, and even his staunchest defenders admit it. There was the time he stole crab legs from a Publix. And that time he was caught sneaking soda into a water cup at Burger King. And there was the time police stopped and handcuffed him for carrying a pellet gun he claimed he would shoot at squirrels; this would freak out most of us, but Winston was apparently unfazed. A few hours later, he got into a BB-gun fight at his apartment complex.
Recently, Winston stood on a table in the campus union and yelled a vulgar phrase that has been an Internet meme. This was a bigger deal than it normally would have been because he is the Heisman Trophy winner, not some frat pledge acting on a dare, and it was an even bigger deal because of all the other stupid stuff he has done. He seems to major in mischief. Florida State suspended Winston for half the Clemson game, then the whole thing. Jameis being Jameis, he warmed up in full pads before the game anyway. Hahaha.
The second accusation against Jameis Winston is that he raped a woman.
We are conflating the two, and this is a problem. All of the silly stuff Winston has done clouds the very serious allegation against him. We make jokes and wonder why he does one ridiculous thing after another -- with the nation watching and a multi-million-dollar NFL career at stake. And partly because the crab-leg jokes are safe to make, we talk more about the little mistakes he definitely made and less about the incredibly serious accusation that was never properly resolved.
As he hunts for another national championship, Winston faces a campus hearing into the sexual assault he was accused of committing in December 2012. Winston was never charged with a crime, and some would argue that this means Winston was innocent. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is one of those people. He said this weekend: “There is not a victim because there was no crime.”
Fisher and many others miss the point. Whatever happened on the night in question, there was never a real chance of Winston being charged, because the investigation into Winston was botched from the beginning. This seemed clear last December and has become more obvious since. “Botched” might be too kind, actually. The investigation fell somewhere between blatantly half-hearted and deliberately mishandled. (This has been covered in many places, but start here if you need to get caught up.)
Proving sexual assault in the court system is notoriously difficult; proving it under these circumstances was impossible, even if it did occur. Now Winston faces a campus hearing into four possible violations of the school’s student code. Predictably, the accuser has already been smeared by those who have examined the facts of the case and concluded that they love watching Winston play football.
It’s not my place to guess whether he is guilty or not. But because authorities bungled the investigation, this is his accuser’s only chance at a fair hearing of her charge.
That is the Winston story that really matters, but in the strange life and times of Jameis Winston, it’s never just about one story. This week, another little misdeed emerged. Winston may or may not have been paid for his autograph, an NCAA violation that would render him ineligible.
In a weird, twisted way, this autograph accusation hurts the cause of rape survivors. Confused? Follow along.
Winston may get popped by the NCAA for selling his own autograph. Now, only an organization as congenitally controlling as the NCAA would think it owns the rights to somebody else’s autograph. Only the NCAA is so institutionally delusional as to think it could stop a college kid from trying to make a little easy money. In the minds of much of America, especially the public opinion-drivers who write and talk about these things for a living, the NCAA has no business regulating a college player’s autograph sales.
Georgia makes a bunch of money selling Todd Gurley jerseys and the NCAA nods and winks, but when Gurley is accused of selling his own handwriting, he gets suspended. This makes Gurley a victim. And by extension, if Winston gets dinged for the same offense, he would also be a victim.
But the idea of Winston as any kind of victim is dangerous, because that other case is a lot more serious. The mind gets jumbled when it thinks of a man as both victim and predator. It also gets jumbled when we think of a man as both serial knucklehead and potential rapist. But maybe we should not be so worried about the effect of Winston’s actions on his football career, and wonder more about the effect on the woman who has accused him of rape.