As the Florida Senate debated itself in Tallahassee last week, a smoldering issue re-ignited thanks to the National Football League draft. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the very first pick, looked to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as the player best suited to lead them to the playoffs.
Millions are aware of the Winston story. This gifted athlete played two years without losing a regular season game, led the Seminoles to two conference titles and a national championship while winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy.
Millions are also aware of some, but not all, of Winston’s off-the-field story as well. On November 25, 2012, he helped do $4,000 worth of damage to an apartment complex with pellet guns. The owner did not press charges after an FSU official promised Winston and friends would pay for the damage.
Less than two weeks later, Winston was accused of rape by FSU student Erica Kinsman. As we know, he was not charged by the state attorney.
On April 29, 2014, he was accused of stealing $32 worth of crab legs from a Tallahassee Publix. Winston told police, as well as FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, that it was an honest mistake and he “forgot” to pay.
On September 16, 2014, Winston stood on a table at the student union and shouted vulgarities for all to hear. He served a one-game suspension for that crude outburst.
Other than that, he’s been a model citizen.
Those impartial observers who understand the legal system can see why State Attorney Willie Meggs did not charge Winston. Tangible evidence is necessary, but Meggs also determined Kinsman “was not a witness that we believed we could put on the stand and vouch for.”
All of this is not to say she is lying. Meggs concluded he could not prove her accusations in court.
Throughout this ordeal, now headed to a civil trial, many gave Winston the benefit of the doubt because no one could prove he was lying. Winning a lot of football games didn’t hurt.
In a colossal boneheaded move, “Famous Jameis” eroded his trustworthiness to a point that could affect his civil trial. During an interview with University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, Winston revealed he did not “forget” to pay for the crab legs. Instead, he admitted to an arrangement with some Publix employees to obtain them for free.
A famous public admission by Richard Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler comes to mind. When the truth overwhelmed the spin coming from the White House during the late stages of Watergate, all poor Ziegler could say was “this is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”
In other words, Winston lied to police and looked his coach in the eye and lied to him. He did a PolitiFact on himself and set his own pants on fire.
The attorneys for Kinsman must have thought Christmas came in April. They can now easily ask Winston, “If you lied about the crab legs, what else are you lying about?” Remember, guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is not the standard for a civil trial.
If the Bucs and their head coach, Lovie Smith, were having second thoughts about drafting Winston first, they put those aside and picked him anyway. How did Winston reward their leap of faith? He posted a photograph of him dressed in Buccaneer gear holding a plate of crab legs.
The civil trial involving the alleged rape is coming. In addition, a documentary called The Hunting Ground is making the rounds. This film chronicles Winston’s encounter with Kinsman from her point of view. Both of these will keep his name in both the sports pages and the editorial page for the foreseeable future.
The documentary was enough to convince Floridian Joe Scarborough to determine on his MSNBC show Morning Joe that Winston committed the crime of rape. The Alabama alum and University of Florida law grad stated on air that the Winston draft means “the NFL doesn’t care about rape charges or character.”
Scarborough’s comments are clearly over the top. The NFL did not draft Jameis Winston; the Buccaneers did.
However, Morning Joe’s reaction, and others who watched Hunting Ground, indicates that the distraction known as the life and times of Jameis Winston is in the process of relocating from Tallahassee to Tampa.
For the sake of Jameis Winston and Lovie Smith, the Bucs had better be winning some games when that happens. If not and for obvious reasons, everyone else should be as far away from the fan as possible.
Bob Sparks is a business and political consultant based in Tallahassee. Column courtesy of Context Florida.