This was uncomfortable. Embarrassingly so.
The gravity and seriousness normally associated with allegations of rape were apparently lost on Florida's State Attorney, William Meggs, during his press conference Thursday to announce that no charges would be filed against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston following accusations of sexual battery against the star quarterback.
The 35-minute presser was peppered with laughter, glib exchanges and one-liners. And while there's a time and place for witty banter and snappy replies, discussing a case of alleged sexual assault with serious implications to the lives of two people is not a good location for that.
And there were many viewers who thought the same thing as the presser played out. From ESPN's Samantha Ponder:
Anyone else uncomfortable with the amount of smiling/laughter in this press conference?— Sam Ponder (@samsteeleponder) December 5, 2013
to Missouri senator Claire McCaskill:
As former prosecutor & advocate for rape victims I'm disgusted at the frivolity of Meggs press conference announcing no charges on Winston.— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) December 5, 2013
There's no question that such cases involving athletes and celebrities—be they D-listers or full-blown pop culture icons—tend to draw far more media scrutiny and public interest than others. This was no different, and the compelling elements were myriad, even for an incident that happened nearly a year ago.
There are questions as to why the Tallahassee Police Department failed to forward any evidence to the state attorney's office until 11 months later, and that's because they were only compelled by media that filed Freedom of Information Act and public records requests.
Then there's the fact that Winston, whom nobody heard of a year ago, was now the star quarterback of an undefeated national championship contender and a Heisman Trophy candidate.
All that aside, it was disingenuous at best—and inappropriate at worst—for the way in which this press conference was conducted.
Meggs laughed. He smiled. Former Florida Senator Alfred Lawson, who at one point was asked why he was even there, stood behind Meggs and also laughed and smiled.
(Lawson, by the way, said he was there "to support the attorney general." Lawson was a powerful Democrat in Florida politics for almost 30 years and now runs a public relations firm. He earned his master's degree from Florida State. Meggs is also an FSU graduate. But that's a whole other story.)
The video (via The Big Lead) above is a mashup of 95 seconds of the 35-minute press conference. That's 95 seconds too long.
It is most certainly not a stretch to say even that limited amount of frivolity is just one reason that discourages rape victims to come forward, as Pro Football Talk editor Michael Smith tweeted here:
This should give us a greater appreciation of why victims hesitate to come forward. Cops who drag their feet, prosecutors who laugh it off.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) December 5, 2013
This is neither an indictment nor validation of the accuser, or of Jameis Winston for that matter. This is about simple respect for the gravity of the situation from a man who is ultimately the Florida's top legal authority. Unfortunately, there was no sympathy nor respect from William Meggs on this day.
He doesn't understand that the joke's on him.
Rich Thomaselli is Bleacher Report's College Football Editor.