“If this was an issue like he stole a stereo or something I might look at it differently,” said Richard Lapchick, the excellent arbiter of ethics in sports today. “But to turn a blind eye to this would be a mistake.”
It would, because the Heisman is more than just an end of the season award. It’s a trophy that has almost achieved a mythical status, and it comes with the provision that the player not only must be very skilled but possess a certain amount of integrity.
We know where Winston fits in the first requirement. He’s completed two of every three passes, thrown for 35 touchdowns, and led the Seminoles to within one game of the title game in Pasadena.
But no one outside of Winston and his accuser can be sure how he rates on the second.
Unfortunately, the wheels of justice sometimes move slowly. That seems to be even truer in Tallahassee, where the family of the woman claims police never presented a case to prosecutors from when it was reported last December until it was reported on last month.
When it was confirmed DNA was found in the underwear of the accuser, Winston’s attorney said the sex was consensual.
The family hasn’t changed their stance once.
“To be clear, the victim did not consent,” the family said in a statement. “This was a rape.”
Winston, as is his right, has said nothing, either to police or reporters. And as the clock ticks toward Monday’s balloting deadline for the Heisman, prosecutors say they haven’t decided yet what to do and will not rush their decision just to have it done by the vote.
So Heisman voters are left with a dilemma. Do they go ahead and award the trophy to the best man on the field, knowing that there’s a possibility he could be charged with rape? Or do they take into account the mission statement for the Heisman, which says the award should go to “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
So far, the vote seems to be solidly on Winston’s side. Websites that track the leanings of the 928 voters have him winning in a landslide, and a small survey by The Associated Press last week showed 27 of 33 voters would consider Winston even if prosecutors had yet to determine whether to charge him by the time the ballots were due.
Their argument is he’s yet to be charged with anything and to deny him college football’s top award would be unfair if he is indeed innocent. But another argument could be made that he shouldn’t have even been playing this season if Florida State was aware that the woman identified him as far back as January as her attacker.
It’s not just a football issue, either. A 2007 Department of Justice study showed one in seven coeds reported being victims of completed sexual assaults at some point in their college lives. Most happened while they were incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, and only a small percentage were ever officially reported.
“It’s such a huge issue to honor somebody with that cloud over them,” said Lapchick, who heads The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. “For that reason, it has to be considered.”
It does, and it should. Sadly, there’s an awfully good chance it won’t.
Is Jameis Winston the best college player in the country? Yes he is, and there’s a good chance he will be again next year if circumstances allow.
But he’s not Heisman winning material right now. At least not until a far bigger question is answered first.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg