FSU ... must stop enabling Winston’s questionable behavior and suspend him from playing football until there is a clear and fair resolution to the rape investigation that is underway.
Despite the fact that an NFL scouting report of Jameis Winston today reads like a police rap sheet, Florida State University (FSU) and the NCAA are permitting their Heisman winner to play for the highly ranked Seminoles. Perhaps coach Jimbo Fisher is really running the show.
On Nov. 25, 2012, university police learned that Winston and his roommate were carrying a long pistol and allegedly shooting squirrels on campus. The police took no action. That evening, Winston was involved in a pellet and BB gun battle at his apartment complex, which resulted in $4,000 in damages. The apartment owners declined to press charges. FSU took no action, although it claimed that the players would pay for the damages. It is not clear whether the damages were paid, and if so, by whom.
On Dec. 7, 2012, a Florida State student accused Winston of raping her. Winston’s semen was on her underwear, and he acknowledged intercourse, claiming that it was consensual. The police initially dropped the case because they said the woman was not cooperating. The state attorney later initiated a week-long investigation but refused to file charges. FSU penalized Winston by keeping Winston out of practice for two days.
On May 20, 2013, Winston was required to appear on the FSU campus at a code of conduct hearing involving two teammates who were believed to have witnessed the alleged rape by Winston of another student. Winston did not appear, claiming he was never formally notified of the hearing. No penalty was imposed.
On April 30, 2014, Winston was cited for failing to pay for crab legs in a Publix Grocery Store. Winston left the store without paying for the crab legs, claiming he simply forgot to pay the $32 due. Winston was ordered to pay the restitution of the retail value for the crab legs and complete 20 hours of community service. In the stiffest penalty ever imposed on Winston, FSU suspended him from the baseball team for three games. Even though he was also in spring practice with the football team, coach Fisher did not penalize him.
Early in September of 2014, the university acknowledged that it had reopened the investigation of the rape charges from 2012, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, which raised Title IX concerns. The alleged victim was interviewed in August 2014. Winston said he would cooperate fully.
On Sept. 16, 2014, days after agreeing to cooperate fully in the investigation regarding the alleged rape, Winston stood on a table in the student union making an obscene gesture and yelling sexually explicit language demeaning to women.
Florida State interim president Garnett S. Stokes, a woman, and athletic director Stan Wilcox issued the following statement: “As a result of his comments yesterday, which were offensive and vulgar, Jameis Winston will be withheld from competition for the first half of the [next football] game.” The penalty was later increased to a full game, due to Winston’s lack of honesty in reporting the incident. Coach Fisher immediately reinstated Winston after his one game suspension, announcing that he would start the next game.
A one game suspension is insufficient. FSU must do more to protect its brand as a respected university and all of its students. It must stop enabling Winston’s questionable behavior and suspend him from playing football until there is a clear and fair resolution to the rape investigation that is underway.
A suspension, ironically, will also help Winston. It will give him time to improve the major character deficit in his NFL scouting report, by cleaning up his life.
The NCAA must also proactively formulate and enforce uniform policies regarding sexual abuse given that student-athletes are disproportionately involved in sexual abuse on campus. If it fails to do so, the NCAA will find itself in a future crisis deeper than the one the NFL is currently facing. It should also investigate the Winston matter to determine whether he has received impermissible extra benefits to pay the costs associated with his misbehavior.
It's time for FSU and NCAA to cease counting short-term victories and dollars and get back into the game of educating and protecting students.
Rodney K. Smith is director of the Sports Law and Business Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Tempe, Arizona. He is also a former member of the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee.