Players Need Accountability, Not Protection, From Their Community
After almost two years, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will be subject to a hearing when his school, now under federal scrutiny for mishandling sexual assault cases, holds a code of conduct hearing.
New allegations that Winston signed autographs for money are also in the news.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has responded to both developments with confidence in Winston -- and what seems to be a lack of curiosity about the facts of the cases.
Fisher told reporters the sooner the hearing was the better to "get it over with." Asked if he had concerns over the potential outcome -- which at worst could mean expulsion -- Fisher said, "None."
Legal charges in the sexual assault case against Winston were never filed, due to lack of evidence, according to State Attorney Willie Meggs. Two stories over the weekend shed some light into the investigation of the case.
Fox Sports reported that the Tallahassee Police Department may have obstructed the investigation into the assault case and turned relevant documents over to Winston's attorney before handing them to Meggs. That's why Meggs was surprised to find that two material witnesses in the case already had nearly identical signed affidavits when officials went to interview them.
The New York Times had this cover story Sunday, detailing the many ways that the Tallahassee Police Department treated Florida State football players better than the average suspect -- including the detail that a domestic violence 911 call involving a player was never referred to the proper authority.
Wasn't it just last week we were discussing the San Jose Police Department and its cozy relationship with the 49ers? Whenever an organization gets a little too much reverence -- whether it's the NFL, a professional team or even Sayreville High School (more on that later) -- it can result in misplaced priorities.
Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he dismissed cases of domestic violence on his watch. Potential victims are not members of a team; no one is looking out for their interests. It can be so much easier for people in positions of authority to assume the best about a player -- did he really punch her cold in the elevator? -- rather than investigate and discipline.
When the legal system, a team or a league fails to hold a person accountable, it hurts more than just the alleged victim -- a person often discounted and smeared. The appearance of a two-tiered system of discipline is problematic for others on campus, for every other player in the locker room and, ultimately, for the player himself or herself.
According to legal analyst Michael McCann, the statute of limitations in Winston's sexual assault case doesn't run out until 2017. Since charges were never filed, any new charge would not be a violation of double jeopardy.
Between the crab legs, the BB gun war, breaking a (ridiculous) NCAA rule and the much more serious allegation, it seems there's a troubling pattern that makes you wonder whether consequences are being considered.
The NFL has always banked on problematic players in the past, but after several high-profile NFL players have been placed on the commissioner's exempt list -- where team owners continue to pay enormous salaries to players like Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who awaits trial on child abuse charges -- the lenient attitude may be changing.
Talent on a football field will always be important, but it's not the only thing. The NFL is instituting real change, including a personal conduct policy with consequences and the implementation of a training program to address domestic violence and sexual assault.
Players like Winston will be better served if they are held accountable by diligent institutions. When that happens, any kind of exoneration will be more meaningful.
Other things on my mind this week
Over the weekend, Adam Schefter reported that the NFL would prefer not to have commissioner Roger Goodell testify at Ray Rice's appeal. Of course he can (and likely will) be compelled to do it anyway, but if this is a window into the NFL's mindset, it needs to change course. The league can't turn a page on its old way of dealing with domestic violence while simultaneously trying to protect Goodell and other executives. Sunshine is the best cleanser.
Goodell is the face of the NFL, and right now the league has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to get away from the damage a botched Rice suspension caused. Instituting new policies and having domestic violence summits is a great start, but transparency is even better. Goodell shouldn't confuse himself with a coach who just wants to move on to Cincinnati. Unlike a game on Sunday, this issue really matters.
The Sayreville football program has been shut down amid allegations that there was systematic sexual assault by upperclassmen. Initially, parents were reportedly upset that the season was canceled, but after seven players were arrested, the tone changed.
Football coaches like to talk about the life lessons that the game teaches, but that is true when the game is kept in context. Confusing a football game, or a season, for something that is more important than the values it imparts is a mistake.