The sexual assault report filed nearly a year ago that is linked to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has more questions than answers at the moment. According to Florida state prosecutors, it could be weeks before it's decided whether Winston will face charges at all.
“We had no knowledge of this until (Wednesday),” State Attorney Willie Meggs said Thursday via the Tallahassee Democrat. “I have made our office available to do whatever needs to be done. We will try to come to the right and just resolution in this case, wherever it leads us.”
Why the case has been lingering for a year—Winston's attorney, Tim Jansen, said the case was "basically closed"—and why it's being brought to light now is unclear. So, too, is Winston's involvement, if he's involved at all.
When all of that is figured out, it will trump anything related to a football game. If Winston is guilty of assault—the description of the suspect does not match Winston's listed height or weight—then he should be punished accordingly. If he was involved in any way, he should be punished accordingly.
If Winston is innocent, his name should be cleared. This is about people's lives, not sports.
And, in the bigger picture, there needs to be ongoing education about sexual assault and rape in our country. A person was allegedly sexually assaulted, an instance that, unfortunately, happens all too often. That should never be tolerated.
In the meantime, Florida State plans to start Winston this Saturday against Syracuse. Since there appears to be little to no evidence indicting Winston at the moment, he should be able to proceed with his life.
How Winston will handle the situation will be closely watched. He's considered the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and the Seminoles are on the verge of a BCS championship appearance. By itself, that's a lot for any 19-year-old to handle.
Now, add in this story.
As B/R's Barrett Sallee writes, with great success comes great scrutiny. Texas A&M quarterback and Heisman winner Johnny Manziel knows a thing or two about that, but Manziel's scrutiny stemmed from generally harmless behavior in the offseason. What's looming over Winston is potentially far more damaging—even if he's innocent.
When Winston takes the field against the Orange, he won't be the first football player to ever have an off-the-field issue following him. He won't even be the first football player on his team, for that matter.
The irony of the football field, a chaotic and violent arena by nature, is that it also serves as a haven. It's a place where players can concentrate on the task at hand, if only for a few hours, and not what's going on outside the stadium walls.
And Winston will have the support of his teammates when he does take the field. It's been well-documented that, as a redshirt freshman, Winston is a natural leader. His teammates look up to him and believe in him. They're going to play for him too, perhaps now more than ever.
"It's just an 'it' that he has, I can't explain it," offensive lineman Cameron Erving said of Winston last month via the Orlando Sentinel. "On the field, it's such a relaxed environment because everybody is so confident, so sure in themselves."
Don't expect that to change against Syracuse. There's something to be said for winning, a common goal in the locker room that rises above plenty of other individual issues. As long as Winston is a good teammate who helps that cause, and all signs indicate that's the case, then he'll have the support of his team.
And what's pending away from the field won't be a distraction.
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