The Jameis Winston case is about a lot of things, an alleged sexual assault, a possible police cover-up, and a college football team. The problem is that we are so focused on the football part of the Winston story that we may be missing the more important aspects of this tragedy.
The discussion about the DNA match of Jameis Winston to the alleged victim was immediately turned into a discussion on its effect to the Heisman Trophy and the BCS.
Although I believe this incident brings up serious issues that deserve and need discussion among sports enthusiasts, perhaps we are not framing the conversation appropriately. Let’s examine the individuals and institutions involved in this case using the lens of real world implications.
The Alleged Victim
The alleged victim’s family released a statement laying out their side of the events. To say that the information in that statement was disturbing would be putting it mildly. The victim alleges that she was raped by Jameis Winston and that the Tallahassee Police Department was at the very least incompetent.
Unfortunately, one of the consequences of our instant information society is that any kind of information can be spread. Yesterday I spoke to a FSU student and a business owner from Tallahassee and they had both, “heard discussion of a (the victim’s) name.”
When asked if they believed that this information being available had led to the alleged victim being harassed, the FSU student replied, “Yeah well, I don’t know, people are pretty angry, it’s been a long time since we’ve been this good.”
It is not hard to see how harassment would have been possible looking at the vile things that are being said about the victim on social media. I have personally seen pictures and social media links reported to be the alleged victim posted on the Internet.
Many people want to jump to discredit the victim and in doing so fall back to easy excuses and arguments that are often heard in sexual assault cases. I have a hard time believing that this was a “money grab” or “revenge charge.” The alleged victim went to police immediately after the incident, and from what we know it is understood that the victim identified Jameis Winston sometime after the assault. If her motivation was one of these reasons, why would she not have identified Jameis Winston immediately? If she had wanted fame and money she would have leaked the information herself rather than trying to move on with her life.
I will not jump to the conclusion that the alleged victim of a sexual assault is lying if the accused is not willing to say that. A few moments ago Jameis Winston’s attorney did finally say that Jameis Winston had consensual sex with the alleged victim. Why wait until after a DNA match to start defending yourself?
What we do know is that we have a young woman whose life has potentially been drastically affected and until there is evidence to the contrary, we should be respectful of her and her allegations.
Jameis Winston, The Accused
Jameis Winston seems like an outstanding competitor and person, which is why these allegations came as such a shock. Part of being a star college athlete in today’s world is a life under the microscope. Although I found the allegations shocking, I am certainly not shocked that they found their way into the hands of the media. An incident of this serious nature was never going to be able to slide under the radar. There are things at stake for Jameis Winston much larger than a game and a trophy for playing that game. It is unfortunate that Jameis Winston is having the details of this incident leaked to the media. It is also unfortunate that Jameis Winston may not have received fair treatment from the Tallahassee Police Department due to his status.
Now I know that some of you may question how a police department attempting to cover something for the accused could harm the accused. However, in this case I believe that is exactly what has happened. If the Tallahassee Police Department had investigated this incident properly and swiftly these allegations could have been settled by this time.
If Jameis Winston is innocent, he could have already proven his innocence and not had a black cloud surrounding him during his time of success. If Jameis Winston was charged, he would have gone into trial without the noose of possible police corruption hanging around his neck.
Do we think that the District Attorney’s office is under pressure to prosecute because they do not want to be associated with the mistakes of the Tallahassee Police Department? Have the actions of the Tallahassee Police Department now slanted the perceptions and public opinion in this case?
Florida State University
There is no evidence that anyone at FSU was involved in any attempt to cover or hide information about this incident. This is not Penn State. This has hurt FSU as well.
Imagine the pressure on the FSU Administration, on one hand they have immense public pressure to jump to conclusions and punish a star athlete, while on the other hand, they have fans and alumni who are emotionally invested in a successful football season.
I’ve seen no evidence that anyone at FSU wants to do anything but the right thing in this situation. They also do not want to take actions that they will later regret. Florida State is walking in a very serious public perception high wire act.
The Tallahassee Police Department informed Florida State that the investigation was closed and by all accounts, Jameis Winston was innocent. FSU then made the decision to stand by their athlete. Given the information available to FSU I would not have made a different call up to this point.
The consequence of suspending or dismissing Jameis Winston too early would be to potentially invite a loss of support from fans and alumni. Support which a university like Florida State depends on. The consequence of not suspending or dismissing Jameis Winston at the correct time would be a potential stain on the reputation of a major university.
Tallahassee Police Department
The Tallahassee Police Department was given this case hours after the incident occurred. They held the case until the media caught wind of it and at that point they had no choice but to send it on to the District Attorney. The police department defends their long delay by saying that the alleged victim decided to quit pursuing the case in February 2013. This was after the alleged victim had been subject to their refusing to investigate for over two months.
The Tallahassee Police Department says the reason they did not interview or get DNA from Jameis Winston was that they did not want to “tip” Jameis Winston off. Once again, the fact that Jameis Winston’s attorney was informed of the investigation and according to the District Attorney was provided with copies of evidence during the same time period proves that to be a false statement.
The statements to the alleged victim about the consequences of her pursuing this incident are portrayed by the Tallahassee Police Department to just be advice. What law enforcement agency would advise a victim to live with a crime committed against them because of how others might perceive it? Even if this advice was given in good faith, which when paired with their actions is hard to believe, it shows both cowardice and a lack of compassion for those the police department is sworn to protect.
It is hard to find any logical explanations for the actions of the Tallahassee Police Department that do not at best color them as incompetent. In trying to protect a star athlete the police department has hurt the victim, the university, and the player they were trying to protect.
The issues here extent far beyond the Heisman Trophy and the BCS Championship game, it is important that we try to keep the real world consequences in mind as we discuss this unfortunate situation. As football fans we like a “good guy” and a “bad guy” we are for one team and against the other. We look at sports in a black and white way, did we win or did we loose? In the real world issues of this gravity are often shades of grey.