What 'The Hunting Ground' Shows About Jameis Winston And Campus Culture
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's April 27 NFL Draft Issue. Subscribe today!
Jameis Winston is going to be drafted by an NFL team on April 30, probably with the No. 1 pick. But instead of sharing a bear hug with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the quarterback likely will stay home. He says it's because he wants to be around his family. And Goodell won't force him to appear; he undoubtedly understands that the optics of welcoming Winston -- who was accused of but not charged with raping a Florida State classmate -- are complicated at best.
As this issue's cover story on Winston details, he and Erica Kinsman tell different stories about what happened on Dec. 7, 2012. Kinsman says Winston raped her; Winston says they had consensual sex. But while #FSUTwitter and survivors' advocates may forever argue the facts, what's indisputable is the shocking ineptitude of colleges when it comes to handling sexual assault, especially when it involves a star athlete.
That's the ultimate takeaway after watching the powerful new documentary "The Hunting Ground," in which Kinsman drops her anonymity and talks at length about her version of events -- a version that has remained the same for more than two years. What's so haunting is that time frame: years. The film details how she reported the alleged assault immediately to law enforcement and was even driven to the hospital by FSU police. Then virtually no investigation took place.
There's a jarring moment in the film when these words flash on screen: "With the information Erica provided, the Tallahassee Police Department could have ... identified and questioned the suspect and his two roommates the next day ... obtained video from the 30 surveillance cameras at the bar where she met the suspect ... located the cab driver who drove Erica and the suspect from the bar. They did none of these."
The real power of "The Hunting Ground" is in the sheer number of women (and a few men) who come forward to tell their stories. Collectively, the accounts they offer show just how broken university sexual assault investigation procedures truly are. In Kinsman's case, Fox Sports has reported that the FSU campus police chief obtained the original police report four days before prosecutors, then handed it out to FSU officials and Winston's lawyer. Before law enforcement officials spoke with two key witnesses, the witnesses had already met with Winston's attorney. Their accounts would line up remarkably with that of Winston's lawyer. After declining to charge Winston, Florida State Attorney Willie Meggs said the local police's delay did "hamper" his office's investigation. In the film, Meggs is asked if he believes Winston raped Kinsman. "I think I did not have sufficient evidence to prove that he sexually assaulted her against her will," Meggs says. "I think things that happened there that night were not good."
Florida State isn't commenting on the Winston case because it is facing a federal lawsuit from Kinsman. But university president John Thrasher has said that "The Hunting Ground" filmmakers didn't give the school adequate time to respond to Kinsman's allegations and that FSU's comprehensive sexual assault policies weren't represented.
It'd be easy to dismiss the Winston case as an outlier. But in fact, "The Hunting Ground" is just the latest window into a far-too-common problem. The documentary cites studies showing that college athletes make up less than 4 percent of male college students but 19 percent of sexual assaults. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill's damning report last summer found that more than 20 percent of college athletic departments are allowed to oversee sexual assault cases involving their own athletes.
By protecting Winston, Florida State and the police not only prevented Kinsman from getting justice but Winston as well. The way the legal and university processes played out, he was never able to fully clear his name.
Meanwhile, the former classmates' lives have played out very differently, illustrating why nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults are never reported. One has been shunned by her community, while the other will emerge from a tunnel to cheers on Sundays this fall. The images are lasting: A smiling Winston holds the Heisman Trophy, a resigned Kinsman tells her side of the story once again and campus administrators across the country still don't understand what they did wrong.