Reckless System Drags Winston Through Mud

I have yet to ascertain what happened, if anything, in the wee hours of Dec. 7, 2012 in Tallahassee, Fla., where a woman accused Jameis Winston of sexual battery. Problem is, an absence of direct knowledge still won’t stop anyone — prosecutors, attorneys, media commentators, the general public — from believing the accuser and making assumptions about Winston when THEY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED, EITHER.

What I do know is this: (1) no charges have been filed against Winston; (2) the case was closed in February by the Tallahassee police department, then reopened this week with the urging of the state attorney’s office in Florida; (3) Winston is denying the allegation through his attorney; (4) his accuser said she had been drinking the night of the alleged incident, “before/during offense” according to the original police report obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper; and, most curiously, (5) she described the suspect as a black, muscular male between 5-9 and 5-11 and weighing 240 pounds.

Jameis Winston is 6-4, maybe taller, and listed at 228 pounds. Last year, in his redshirt season, he was closer to 195 pounds.

She seems to be describing two different people.

Skeptical? I certainly am.

The biggest question: Why now? It can’t be simple coincidence that the story emerges only days after Florida State positioned itself for a likely berth in the national title game — and just as Winston, the Seminoles’ multi-skilled and charismatic quarterback, is becoming the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy. In a country where conspiracy theories never should be doubted, and in a state known for hanging chads and sleazy football programs, the stench is pretty thick when Winston’s name suddenly goes public for a 2012 case without even being mentioned in the police report. No one has found reason in almost 12 months to charge him, yet here he is, 19 years old, in what should be the most wonderful time of his life, having to deal with prosecutors who love to make names for themselves regardless of facts while dragging innocent-until-proven-guilty public figures through the media muck.

As the father of two daughters, I am shaken upon hearing collegiate-based reports about sexual battery, of course. As a sports journalist who has seen it all, I realize that some athletes are animals who feel entitled when it comes to women and sex. But as someone who has dealt with an unfair court case himself — and watched an accuser lie repeatedly while seeking money (and getting none) — I also know that prosecutors, lawyers and alleged victims have dubious agendas.

There simply isn’t enough substance here, at present, for Florida State to take disciplinary action against Winston. If no charges have been filed, how can the school punish him in any way? “I think the world of the young man. Always have,” said FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, refusing to comment otherwise. Why the state attorney’s office didn’t know about the case until Tuesday — or so it claims, per — sounds beyond fishy.

“We learned about the police report for the first time today,” William Meggs, state attorney for the 2nd Judicial Court in Tallahassee, told “I’ve had it read to me. I think the police department would have to tell you why I didn’t learn about it for the first time until today.”

He would seem to be implying that the Tallahassee police department has been — shall we say? — covering up the case. Isn’t it also possible, in the murky world of law enforcement, that someone in the state attorney’s office has a grudge against someone in the police department? Might it be even more political and petty than that, starting with someone who doesn’t like Florida State’s renewed success in a state where football rivalries are blood sport?

For now, until more is known, Jameis Winston remains my Heisman front-runner, a delightful kid with a wonderful NFL future. It is grossly unfair and reckless when prosecutors, just to get their jollies, use the law to their advantage to damage well-known people without sufficient reason. I smell ego gratification and Seminole envy.

And if Jameis Winston is indeed innocent, the people who put him through this ordeal should be arrested and charged with fraud by character assassination.