Not only are Florida State football fans hoping that this unfortunate chapter of the Jameis Winston story has been silenced once and for all now that charges won’t be filed, but so are members of the local media covering the Seminoles on a day-to-day basis.
As you have read and heard ad nauseum over the course of the last several weeks, the record-breaking redshirt freshman quarterback was involved in an investigation stemming from a sexual assault that allegedly took place this past December. Without rehashing the details you're all too familiar with—and, frankly, sick and tired of hearing about—by now, the alleged victim's camp says it was rape and Winston's camp says it was consensual sex.
The rumor mill has been cranking ever since in Tallahassee, with many coming to the 6'4", 228-pounder's defense and classifying the accuser as just another "crazy ass cleat chaser." But outside the Capital City, especially down the road in Gainesville, Winston was presumed by way too many to be guilty until proven innocent since he happens to be QB1 for "The Rapers" at "Forced Sex University." As is the case in most he-said-she-said situations, the truth no doubt lies somewhere in between the two extremes.
All the while, pigskin crazies on either side of the argument are trying—and failing, to a large degree—to keep everything in perspective and understand that this story forever alters the lives of two young people, one an anonymous sorority girl and the other a future first-round draft pick.
And then you have the sportswriters, radio hosts and television talking heads in media market No. 106 being asked to exit the press box and make a beeline for the State Attorney's office.
As a veteran beat reporter that spent the better part of a decade covering both the Chicago Bears and these very same Florida State Seminoles, nothing threw my work day (week, month, etc.) into a tailspin quicker than breaking news of the legal variety: Lance Briggs charged with leaving the scene of an accident after wrecking his Lamborghini; James Wilder Jr. getting arrested for the third time in less than a year. One minute I’m transcribing Jay Cutler’s pre-practice comments or asking Jimbo Fisher what he sees on tape from Wake Forest, and the next I’m attempting to piece together a sensitive story using a foreign language (legalese) I don’t truly understand.
You cover these stories because you have to, not because you want to—even if the vast majority of your regular readers, listeners and viewers only care about blocking and tackling.
While the ‘Noles are preparing for their appearance Saturday in the ACC Championship Game against upstart Duke, presumably a formality on their way to the BCS title game next month, the national conversation revolves around whether or not the alleged victim was credible, whether or not Winston received star treatment from law-enforcement officials and, sadly, whether or not big-time football in a small college town is indeed more deserving of protection than the welfare of a teenage coed.
I don’t know what’s more awkward—back-burnering your breakdown of the matchup problems Kelvin Benjamin presents to go cover the State Attorney’s press conference, or covering the State Attorney’s press conference and then returning to your breakdown of the matchup problems Kelvin Benjamin presents.
It's like asking a doctor to do your taxes, or an accountant to take out your tonsils.
“Covering a case like this definitely is a double-edged sword because of how sensitive the matter is,” Jason Kahn, a sports reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, told me while on his way to Charlotte to cover Seminoles-Blue Devils. “Instantly, we go from talking about the fun and entertaining world of sports to talking about something that's not even close to being in the same stratosphere. It can be very difficult. But my job is to find the truth and report it, whether it's game highlights or a legal case such as this one.”
The various sports segments Thursday at WCTV somehow have to find a smooth way to transition from a sexual-assault case to the hunting and fishing forecast, which is infinitely more cumbersome for the anchor than the viewer.
Said Kahn, “You just hope the local community understands that and they respect you the same way as you were."