From a USA Today article that described Jameis Winston's ultimately inevitable Heisman win on Dec. 14 as a "coronation" came an interesting insight into the mindset of Heisman voters — and how much they cared about sexual assault charges that shrouded the FSU quarterback in recent months.
"I think that there are some people who sort of feel distaste about it, but I don't think it's a huge issue for people," said Chris Huston, publisher of Heisman Pundit. "I think it's people who were probably less likely to vote for him anyway. Whatever reason they didn't want to vote for him, this sort of confirms it."
Whatever reason, indeed.
Earlier this month, Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs held a press conference to announce — to precisely nobody's surprise — that his office would not be pressing charges against the local football hero. This followed an investigation by Tallahassee police that, at minimum, can only be described as indifferent. An indispensable article in the Tampa Bay Times last week contains a treasure trove of indictments of the willful lassitude of small-town cops on a big-time case.
"There are many, many things that should have been done," former Tallahassee cop George Kirkham told the Times. "[It was] not a well-handled police investigation, I think."
Samuel Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, added: "This is criminal investigation 101, it seems to me. It's a real failure. The question in my mind is: Are they incompetent or was this willful?"
The police didn't bother to track down evidence that could have corroborated — or entirely busted — the accuser's story. Nor did they bother to locate easily findable witnesses, one of whom had a cellphone video of the alleged assault in progress (he later deleted it and unloaded his phone). Then, a police detective reportedly discouraged Winston's alleged victim from pressing charges, telling her that "she will be raked over the coals and her life will be made miserable," according to a statement from her family.
It's easy for people with a vested interest in the Famous Jameis myth — FSU partisans, the sports media, college football fans — to dismiss these problems and trot out the old canards about how "boys will be boys" and "she shouldn't have been there in the first place."
The latter rings true, that perhaps she shouldn't have put herself in that situation, surrounded by testosterone and booze and the young, invincible gods of Bobby Bowden Field. Perhaps, you could argue, she shouldn't have bought into this culture and the way it blurs the lines, making propriety and prudence bygone concepts. (None of that, of course, means that she had it coming, no matter how much she had to drink or how promiscuous she may or may not have been otherwise. There is no excuse for rape.)
The resolution of the Winston case serves many purposes. Burnishing the narrative of the FSU football renaissance is probably the primary one, at least for FSU fans. No less vital, however, is that it sends a message that — whether Winston did it or not, and that we may never know — if you're important enough, and especially if you're a high-profile athlete, the cops may well be inclined to look the other way.
Also willing to look the other way: FSU's diehard fans, so starved for a winner that, no matter the undeniable shoddiness of police work or the many questions that will forever remain unanswered, they'll happily assume the best about the QB and the worst about his alleged victim. For them, what's at stake here isn't about what happened between Winston and this young woman last December, but rather the absolute need to believe that this, the best football player on the field every week, also happens to be — needs to be — a paragon of virtue.