If I ran Florida State University, I’d be seriously pissed at star quarterback Jameis Winston. The university appears to have done everything it possibly could to keep Winston out of trouble for a rape allegation, which a fellow student made against him in December 2012. But Winston doesn’t know how to lead a charmed life. He was cited Tuesday for shoplifting crab legs from Publix. And now FSU has finally taken action against him: by suspending him from the baseball team. (Don’t ask me how a Heisman-winning QB can also be a pitcher with a 1.50 ERA—Winston must be just one hell of an athlete.)
Because the citation for shoplifting was civil rather than criminal, the decision about the suspension was in the hands of the FSU baseball coach. That coach, Mike Martin, is already saying he’s sure Winston will do the required community service and come back to the team soon. Football coach Jimbo Fisher rushed to say he “will also make sure that Jameis meets all obligations, which I know he will.”
It is just so much easier to slap a key athlete on the wrist for a minor seafood theft than to deal with the risk and difficulty of a full-bore investigation into a more serious alleged crime. Sorry if I sound like a cynic. And I’m not saying Winston is a rapist—the investigation was so mishandled that we’ll probably never know. But FSU had an independent legal obligation to look into the rape allegation, and it did not until after it became public, 11 months later, in November 2013. Meanwhile, the athletic department called the police to check on the case back in January of that year. (Here’s FSU’s statement in its own defense.)
Aspiring college athlete criminals take note: If you get accused of a sex crime, you have a great shot at joining the parade of players who have escaped conviction or discipline. But get caught stealing from the grocery store and you’ll be benched, at least for a nanosecond. FSU could still charge Winston with violating the school’s code of conduct in light of the sexual assault allegation. So far, though, the school has gone after two of his teammates instead—friends who got themselves into trouble by coming forward to defend Winston with claims that he’d had consensual sex with his accuser. One of the friends admitted to filming it on his camera. As my colleague Josh Levin tweeted, maybe FSU can figure out how to slap someone with code of conduct charges for taking pictures of Winston walking off with the crab legs.