Still Not Charged, Winston Being Crucified

You DO realize that Jameis Winston has not been charged with a crime yet. And you DO realize that even if he is charged with sexual assault, a felony, it doesn’t necessarily mean he is guilty of that crime. In America, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but fairness apparently vanishes when the accused is a Heisman Trophy frontrunner who quarterbacks a Florida State team likely headed to the national championship game.

What is happening to Winston at the moment is not right. When we have no idea if the state attorney’s office has enough evidence to charge him, much less win a conviction many months down the road, a 19-year-old who already has been unfairly dragged through the media muck now is facing a December from hell. When Willie Meggs, he of the Second Judicial Circuit down Tallahassee way in the perpetually corrupt state of Florida, said he would need at least two additional weeks to determine Winston’s fate, it instantly made Meggs the most powerful man in college football. Not that college football means a damned thing in the face of a sexual assault allegation, but all I know is, Meggs and his colleagues better not come up empty in their investigation.

They need to produce the goods. Or they will have ruined a young man’s dreams, without reason.

With the timetable pushed back, a morality drama takes over. Suddenly, people have to make decisions without having any idea if Winston is guilty or innocent and whether Meggs is a competent prosecutor protecting a victim’s rights or an egomaniacal media whore who, oh, doesn’t like the suffocating football culture in the college town where he lives and works. What we do know is that the Seminoles, assuming they complete a 13-0 season with an Atlantic Coast Conference title-game victory over Duke, will be in Pasadena on Jan. 6 to play for the national title. What we don’t know is if Winston will be with them, and whether he’ll be the outright Heisman winner or a Heisman winner in a holding pattern while a nine-member committee in New York decides whether to conduct a re-vote.

“Any discussion of a potential re-vote would have to be made by the Heisman Trophy trust,” Heisman Trophy coordinator Tim Henning told ESPN, referring to the nine-member committee. “At the end of the day, the trust makes all decisions to anything pertaining to the Heisman.”

Meaning, a chaotic scenario is entirely possible that could have Winston winning the Heisman, losing the trophy in a re-vote, then getting it back if he is acquitted. With Heisman polls closing at 5 p.m. ET on Mon. Dec. 9, voters will not know under the current Meggs timetable if Winston has been charged. But under that timetable, Winston conceivably could be charged later that week, turning the Heisman TV production on Dec. 14 into a firestorm. Imagine Winston, during a one-hour telecast staged like a gala, accepting the award after being charged with a sex crime. Then imagine the Heisman trust voting to take it away. Then imagine Winston being found not guilty, forcing the Heisman trust to return the trophy to Winston, assuming the trust already hasn’t awarded it to Alabama golden boy AJ McCarron.

There still is growing Heisman sentiment for McCarron, an All-American kid who dates Brent Musburger’s old-man fantasy and has been a model citizen and two-time national champion, even after the Crimson Tide’s chaotic 34-28 loss to Auburn. It wasn’t his fault Alabama lost, giving his team a 28-21 lead on a 99-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper and throwing for two more TDs with no interceptions. McCarron is 36-3 as a starter. Problem is, the Heisman is not a career achievement award. It is based on 2013, and if voters were deciding between the two if Winston wasn’t being investigated for an alleged crime, he would have the clear edge based on his production AND the fact Florida State is 12-0 and ranked No. 1 nationally.

But many voters will consider the allegations more than the statistical evidence, including Winston’s three touchdown passes to future NFL star Kelvin Benjamin in a 37-7 stomping of pathetic Florida. Looking for reasons to vote for McCarron, they also will ask why coach Jimbo Fisher, on a day when Winston threw for 327 yards, grabbed Winston’s facemask in anger after a lapse in focus forced FSU to waste a timeout as the play clock was running out. It didn’t help when Winston talked back to Fisher. All was forgotten afterward, with the coach trumpeting his Heisman guy.

“His competitiveness is ridiculous,” Fisher said. “He’s a competitor. Nothing fazes that guy. He thrives on that. … The guy’s ability to learn and process information is what puts him over the top. He can think. He understands what he’s doing at all times. And when he makes a mistake, he can come off and tell you exactly why he did it, what he did or didn’t do right.”

And those hits Winston took on the field Saturday, with the hits he’s taking off them? “I think the more he gets banged up, the more competitive he becomes,” FIsher said. “He’s a competitor. There are two kinds of people when you hit someone in the mouth: one who looks around and says `Huh?’ and one who jumps back into the fight. He jumps back into the fight.”

Said Winston, who hasn’t said a word about the probe: “We’re not even playing at our prime right now.”

The Meggs timetable does give Florida State one advantage: The human element of the Bowl Championship Series equation can’t opt for a team other than the Seminoles because Winston has been charged with a felony. The BCS teams are named Sun. Dec. 8, and if FSU is 13-0, FSU is going to Hollywood. “First state championship and then ACC championship and then national championship,” Fisher said. “That’s our goals.”

But would Winston play in the BCS title game? Here comes another heated national debate. According to university rules and regulations, a student-athlete who is charged with a felony “will not be permitted to represent FSU Athletics in game competition until such time as the charge is resolved and all court, university and athletics department conditions for reinstatement have been met.” The Florida State administration, knowing its $24 million payout from the BCS is safe and sound for its coffers and those of its ACC partners, conceivably could take the high road and stick by its handbook. Or, knowing how Florida State depends on the enormous donations of boosters who ache to win a national championship for the first time this century, the administration could cite — what else? — a loophole.

Yes, a Winston suspension could be overturned because of, ahem, “extraordinary circumstances as determined by the administration.” The powers-that-be would be excoriated for ignoring their own disciplinary language and reflecting all that is disgusting about college football, but all they would have to say is: The young man hasn’t been convicted.

This is why Tim Jensen, Winston’s attorney, visited Meggs on Thanksgiving Eve. “We expressed our concerns that the delay would affect Mr. Winston’s reputation, voters in the Heisman and Florida State’s ability to go to the national championship game,” Jansen told ESPN. “We’re hoping this cloud can be lifted sooner rather than later.”

To reiterate, I am not decrying that an investigation is taking place, as well it should, given the serious nature of the accusations. What I don’t accept is why the case has exploded publicly when charges have yet to be filed. For that, blame Meggs and the accuser’s attorney. Both are trying the case in a public courtroom before due process has taken place, and it has created a convergence of hysteria near the end of a frantic regular season and Heisman race.

“That is the most difficult thing in this case,” Jansen said, per ESPN. “If it was somebody else, and it wasn’t the scenario we have with the Heisman Trophy and the national championship — but that’s something I have to consider and something I’m constantly taking into account.”

When asked about the Heisman while awaiting the Florida game, Winston remained upbeat at a press conference. “Just look at our success,” he said. “See the hard work and dedication we’ve put in, the leadership I’ve instilled, and that we can keep this process going. … I’m a team man, and this award is more for my team.”

Why is Meggs taking so long? One trusted colleague is dealing with a capital murder case the first week of December. It might be hard for sports fans to understand, but, yes, the state attorney doesn’t exist to serve Florida State’s football needs. Still, given the swarms of publicity and the hell both parties are enduring, yes, the case should be accorded some sort of priority, and a decision should be expedited. After all, the alleged incident took place almost a year ago, and the case was declared inactive in February after the alleged victim, according to the Tallahassee police department, refused to cooperate. Since then, the accuser’s attorney has said a police department detective intimidated her and her client into not pursuing the case, and while that possibility deserves its own investigation, why did the accuser’s attorney wait until now — coincidentally or not, with Florida State and Winston positioned for glory — to make public these and other allegations of police wrongdoing? If FSU football is protected by the Tallahassee cops, or if the police department is simply inept, I want to know.

Meantime, the perception battle continues. The Associated Press received a tip — from who, I wonder? — about two minor cases in which Winston was not charged or arrested. The first involved a BB gun battle and 13 broken windows at an apartment complex near Doak Campbell Stadium, which Winston and his roommate at the time, defensive end Chris Casher, denied — instead claiming they were the victims of egg-tossing and paintball-shooting. Should Winston and FSU football players be shooting BBs, assuming they were? No. But that has no bearing on the sexual assault allegations, as Meggs admits. Then there was a Burger King caper in July, when an employee called the police and said Winston was drinking unpaid soda out of ketchup cups. The restaurant didn’t press charges.

Are these the actions of a proud, upstanding Heisman winner? No, they are not. Are they an example of how a mid-sized town is overrun by the Florida State football behemoth — and a police department that protects the behemoth? Could be, ladies and gentlemen. But again, you don’t know, and I don’t know. It’s all talk and unconnected dots.

Oddly, and amateurishly, Tallahassee police posted a timeline of the Winston case on its website without mentioning his name. It was done to counter criticism by the accuser’s attorney and to “demonstrate TPD’s professionalism and the investigative process of a sexual battery case.” There is no mention in the timeline of the detective in question, Scott Angulo, but the police department continues to insist the case was investigated fully and that the accuser’s attorney, after receiving toxicology results in February and March, decided not to pursue the case. “The victim’s attorney stated she would review the findings with her client and contact the investigator if she wished to pursue the case further,” the police department wrote. It wasn’t until Aug. 27 that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provided an analysis of the sexual assault kit to the Tallahassee police, a time lapse suspicious in itself. But why didn’t the accuser’s attorney renew her interest in the case then? Was she informed of the results? I still don’t understand why the accuser allowed many months to pass without pursuing the case.

The release of the timeline was met with an immediate objection by Jansen, who told the Tallahassee Democrat, “We are deeply troubled that the Tallahassee Police Department is putting on their webpage a timeline of the events in this case, which is an ongoing investigation, which contains some information which violates my client’s rights to a fair resolution of his case, including the tainting of a potential jury pool. There is no reason whatsoever for that timeline to be on a public web page at this time.”

Of course, there is no reason for any of this to be debated publicly. All that matters is whether Jameis Winston, Famous Jameis in the American sports vernacular, sexually assaulted a former FSU coed last December. And until we have something concrete from the state attorney, and until that leads to a conviction, it would be unfair not to let a young man win the Heisman and play for a national title.

That doesn’t stop media members who should know better from convicting him before he is charged. Writes USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who, like many premature trigger-pullers in the profession, apparently doesn’t understand the law: “… (A)s things stand now, on the field and off, I’m going to place McCarron first on my ballot, and I will not be putting Winston in either the second or third spot.” And if Winston is cleared, will she apologize for jumping the gun? I doubt it.

Wait for the charges, please. Wait for the verdict, please.

As I wonder if something more is involved in Leon County, Fla.

That being race.