Jameis Winston is an extraordinary football talent deserving of the accolades, praise and awards he is now stockpiling. Florida State—led by its quarterback—is the best team in the country, a dominant force that could be remembered as one of the most impressive BCS teams ever crafted with a victory over Auburn in the title game.
This is what we know and what we should appreciate. And it is worth appreciating.
When we attempt to do more than simply acknowledge on-field greatness, oftentimes dissecting the personalities of teams and players we know little about, we are entering a dangerous area without boundaries.
Such unique situations become more complicated with an award like the Heisman, especially this season. This is about more than just stats, wins and moments on the grandest stage imaginable. It’s a football award, certainly. But it’s also a people award, one that comes with a surface-level-personality and character evaluation.
With Winston, of course, such a situation and assessment become complicated. Well, they are if you allow them, which is incredibly unfair yet not surprising.
On Thursday, Winston was named Walter Camp Player of the Year and on Saturday he claimed the Heisman.
There was no suspense, no buildup and no other scenario to play out as a test run: Sportsbook.ag had pegged Winston as a 1-150 favorite—which means you had to bet $150 to win just $1.
Winston was left off 115 ballots entirely, but still had the fifth largest margin in the modern era.
Winston was not charged with sexual assault after being accused by a female student in December of last year. The entire situation remained in limbo for a few weeks, although state attorney Willie Meggs announced that they would not proceed with the case.
"We've carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case," Meggs said at a press conference after nearly a month of investigation.
The case was closed—in Meggs’ own words—and legally Winston was cleared. Given the haziness of the details and the need for undeniable closure for many people, however, the perception of Winston has drastically evolved. It is still evolving and will continue to do so.
He was far and away the best quarterback in the country, and he’ll need a room for all the hardware he’ll deservedly take home. He may want to keep a spot open for a crystal football that could be added to this in the next month.
And yet, despite coming out the other end of the legal matter clean while continuing to dominate, there will be those who approach Winston’s Heisman—and the remaining Florida State season—with an asterisk.
The season is all very real, but enough damage has been done for some. It’s not a calculable damage but rather open for interpretation and manufacturing.
He was left off of some Heisman ballots altogether. Voters chose to omit simply because they can, taking on the role of detective and moral police officer. These omissions are a sign of an even larger problem that often hampers the sports world.
We don’t know these kids. We don’t know these coaches. We operate off of assumptions.
We certainly know little about Winston and his situation—beyond that he was deemed innocent. The details are limited, but that won’t stop individuals from trying to piece together the entire thing on their own.
It’s a dangerous precedent to take, but that won’t stop many from taking it regardless. We assume that the players, coaches and figures in the spotlight are good people if nothing is said. That’s simply not the case.
It doesn’t automatically mean that they’re bad people, either. Therein lies the danger of assuming anything at all and the need for boundaries.
For Winston and Florida State, it’s quite clear that the boundaries changed. When news of his situation went public, it became—to the surprise of no one—an enormous story. Now that the legal situation has been resolved, it should return to its normal form.
For some that might be impossible to do. A dominant team led by a dominant quarterback isn’t enough. They need a backstory, something that somehow justifies what they’re watching.
Each individual will approach Winston and Florida State in a unique way now that the run of dominance endured a disruption. The only thing we truly know, however, is that Florida State has been exceptional in its dismantling of opponents, and its best player is an extraordinary football talent enjoying one of the greatest seasons in recent memory.
This is worth appreciating, celebrating and talking about.
After that, you’re on your own.
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