By Mike Wise
October 16, 2014
Jameis Winston is the embodiment of the big-time college athlete who can do whatever he damn well pleases as long as he remains the greatest economic engine on campus.
Jimbo Fisher is the embodiment of the big-time college coach who is not really a leader of men but actually a follower of arrested locker-room development.
Florida State football and Tallahassee law enforcement are the embodiment of how athletic revenue transforms universities into institutions of higher corruption.
You can’t follow the two-year odyssey of Winston and come away with any other conclusion: Heisman trophies and national championships give superior athletes immunity from real-life consequences for their actions.
This learned culture of entitlement bleeds down from the NFL and Ray Rice, through the Florida panhandle and then trickles all the way to the high school level in Sayreville, N.J. That’s where seven adolescent boys were arrested last Friday on charges stemming from sick hazing rituals that allegedly involved the sodomizing of “teammates” — and where some parents and coaches couldn’t believe they canceled the rest of the varsity football season because (horrors) the Bombers’ streak of 20 straight postseason appearances would end.
This is the part of Football in America that gets edited out. This is our new national pastime.
Winston will start at quarterback for Florida State in college football’s game of the week against Notre Dame on Saturday night. I predict he will start the remainder of his team’s games this season, too, because no FSU compliance officer interested in further employment with the university would declare Winston ineligible while investigating the sophomore star for the latest allegation against him: swapping autographs for cash.
In further evidence of the game’s twisted values, this claim may be the most serious yet — because criminal behavior toward women and irresponsible pranks such as firing BB guns on campus or stealing food from a supermarket is considered nothing compared to trying to profit personally off your own exploits that generate millions of dollars for others. Now that’s criminal, son.
Fisher says Famous Jameis is innocent, and except when he and the school are publicly embarrassed into taking action, Fisher always says Famous Jameis is innocent — whether he’s being accused of trying to make a little coin on the side or something far more serious, such as last year’s sexual assault investigation.
Winston could join ISIS and contract Ebola tomorrow, and you feel like Fisher would tell you he was trying on a Halloween costume and had a sore throat before sending him out to take on the Fighting Irish.
The coach, who has lost just 10 times in 41 / 2 years and is 4-0 in bowl games after replacing the legendary but hardly saintly Bobby Bowden, oversees a program with at least nine players arrested in the past three years on charges from sexual assault to being an accessory to a fatal shooting, the New York Times reported last week.
Fisher’s continued support shows he needs Winston more than Winston needs him. Florida State and Tallahassee need Winston more than he needs them. Never was that imbalance of power and leverage more clear than last season before prosecutors decided to drop a rape investigation against Winston, deciding there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges.
Fact: The athletic department made sure Winston’s attorney had the investigation report before the state attorney did. By the time the state prosecutor’s office got it, Winston’s attorney got copycat affidavits from his roommates to say the sex was consensual. His defense was set before the proper authorities even knew of the case.
Fact: The investigating officer, Scott Angulo, has done private security work for the Seminole Boosters, a nonprofit claiming, oh, $150 million in assets, the New York Times reported last spring. Seminole Boosters is the main financial pipeline to Florida State athletics.
The lawyer for Winston’s accuser said the investigating officer who handled the case told her that her client would be “raked over the coals” if she went forward with the case — because down there in the panhandle, they take cracking helmets seriously.
The entire affair — Winston’s entire college career, really — shows how the system failed everyone, how star athletes are inoculated from repercussions for their actions at the cost of the institutions they represent. And it’s the same corrosion afflicting the NFL and a high school football powerhouse in New Jersey.
Here’s a window into what Winston learned from that investgation: A month or so after prosecutors decided not to charge him, he and a teammate posted an Instagram video of themselves singing a verse from a rap song called “On the Floor.” It’s about men who proceed after hearing the word “No” from women. Sample lyric: “She said she wants to take it slow. I’m not that type of guy I’ll letcha know. When I see that red light all I know is go.”
I don’t know whether Winston sexually assaulted a woman or the sex was consensual. No one knows but the people in that room. I do know that, through their handling of the investigation, Tallahassee police and the university made it all but impossible to find out.
I do know for all of Jameis Winston’s rotten decision-making off the field, he did make one important one as an 18-year-old that propelled him toward the NFL yet prevented him from genuine human development: He decided to play football at Florida State, where he would never be told no — and if even he was, no one would ever find out about it.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.