By Megan Wood
Bowl season is underway and, with it, a surfeit of TV football coverage leading up to the BCS Championship game on Jan. 6 between #1 ranked Florida State and #2 Auburn.
In it’s giddiness over the nation’s #1 ranking, Florida State – and the Football Industrial Complex – have conveniently ignored what should be more than a footnote in this Cinderella story — namely that nearly a year ago QB Jameis Winston was accused of raping a classmate.
The Heisman Trophy – which Mr. Winston won by a wide margin – is a high honor to be bestowed upon a player who “best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” No doubt he is an excellent athlete, but how much was “integrity” on the minds of those who gave him a booming standing ovation at the celebratory dinner?
Maybe people just forgot about the rape accusation?
Or perhaps they were eager to be satisfied with a slapdash investigation with clear missteps including victim intimidation (common problem in rape cases) so they could get back to celebrating Mr. Winston’s impressive athleticism – and the upcoming national championship?
Should we really be done talking about this? I’m not so sure.
Let’s first get a key fact straight: Mr. Winston was NOT exonerated as FSU Head Coach Jimbo Fisher and supporters alike have mistakenly claimed. To exonerate means to “to prove that someone is not guilty of a crime.” There’s no proof of his innocence—there simply wasn’t enough evidence available, according to State Attorney Willie Meggs, to charge him with rape. Be sure to watch the press conference of Meggs delivering his decision. His laughter and carefree demeanor are disturbing.
The investigation was flawed from the start. Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg highlights the unusual delay in police action and calls the investigation “botched.”
Justice served? Think again.
Just weeks after the state decided against charging Mr. Winston, he won the Heisman Trophy, read the Top 10 on David Letterman, and is prepping for the championship game. There’s buzz about whether he might play baseball at FSU and be the best two-sport player that ever lived.
It’s no wonder big-time college sports like football have an image problem. Not surprisingly, we also have a problem on college campuses with sexual violence. Study by the National Institutes of Justice suggests that over the course of a college career one-fifth to one-quarter of college women can expect to be victims of sexual assault.
Couple those numbers with the fact that campuses have lousy follow-up and response and the real message of Mr. Winston’s case is not that FSU is going to the dance, but that women on that campus – and elsewhere – are being counted out.
Wake up, America. We have a problem! Idolizing athletes and breezing over their sexual crimes sends a troubling public message to women that charges don’t stick to stars.