Andrew Skerritt: FSU’s president should be tougher on football player misconduct

First impressions matter. It’s one of the truisms we must live with. Unfortunately, that’s a fact seemingly lost on new Florida State University President John Thrasher.

Exhibit 1 is the former legislator’s tone-deaf response to last week’s New York Times article highlighting another instance in which an FSU football player not named Winston might have received preferential treatment from a Tallahassee police officer.

According to the Times story headlined “Florida State Player Fled Crash but Got Only Traffic Tickets,” early on the morning of Oct. 5, starting corner back P.J. Williams fled the scene of a two-vehicle accident. According the article, by the time TPD officers reached the scene, the other driver was standing there, but Williams and his passengers, including another FSU football player, had left.

As the investigation played out, Williams and his passengers returned “approximately 20 minutes later.” He was issued tickets for making an improper left turn and for “unknowingly” driving on a suspended license.

The Times story focused on the officer’s failure to cite Williams for leaving the scene of an accident and to test him for alcohol use. Also at issue was the appearance on the scene of two FSU campus police officers, even though they were not involved in the investigation.

Thrasher’s letter, issued on FSU’s website late Friday, attacks the Times without addressing the larger issues at hand. Thrasher focuses on the “implications” in the Times article, while ignoring the troubling fact: another FSU player appears to break the law without paying consequences. Most people who cause an accident while driving on a suspended license and then leave the scene expect to be arrested.

Unsurprisingly, Thrasher sees nothing wrong with the way the situation was handled. From a Seminole point of view, he is dead right. After all, the FSU athlete walked away with just tickets instead of criminal charges. I call that a win for FSU and a loss for justice. It was handled the way things should be handled for FSU athletes. After all the fallout over the Jameis Winston sexual assault allegations, it seems that nothing has changed.

Sadly, Thrasher doesn’t acknowledge the victim of the accident whose vehicle was wrecked and who was slightly hurt. How about promising to hold student athletes accountable and demanding of them the highest ethical standards on and off the field? How about promising that going forward he won’t accept this kind of behavior?

Thrasher thoroughly misread the article and the situation. That’s unacceptable. It reminds critics of why they thought he was the wrong person for the job in the first place. It reminds us that FSU can’t aspire to be a top university if football is its highest priority. It reminds us that FSU can’t aspire to be a first-rate university being led by a second-rate president.

Andrew J. Skerritt is author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. He lives in Tallahassee. Follow him on Twitter @andrewjskerritt. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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