By now, anyone paying attention is well aware of the charges facing Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. Nearly one week ago, TMZ broke the story alleging that the FSU signal-caller played some role in a sexual assault at an off-campus apartment last December. The investigation was recently turned over to state attorney Willie Meggs, who has given no timetable for a decision although he did say that the investigation could be complete within two weeks.
Unfortunately, sexual assault investigations often taken months and no one can say for certain as to when we will know something for sure. With potential charges hanging over Winston’s head, many have begun to question how the pending investigation will affect Winston’s chances to become the second freshman in as many years to take home the Heisman Trophy.
The simple answer for now is that it shouldn’t. Although we may never know what happened on the night of December 7th, 2012, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that is overly incriminating toward Winston at the moment. All that we know for sure is from a heavily redacted police report from the Tallahassee Police Department. The report describes a man between the height of 5’9″ and 5’11″ and about 240 pounds as the perpetrator. Winston is all of 6’4″, but with a redacted police from nearly 11 months ago, who really knows what to think?
For now, Winston should be presumed innocent until proven guilty as is the protocol in court, it should be also in the court of public opinion. That should at least be the case until something further incriminating comes out on the 19-year-old Winston and what is to be expected of the Heisman Trophy voters.
In his first performance on the field since the story broke, Winston did not appear to have much of a burden hanging over him. In Florida State’s 59-3 victory over Syracuse on Saturday, Winston completed his first 11 passes while leading touchdown drives on each of the Seminoles’ first five possessions. Due to a 38-0 halftime lead, Winston played just a half, but finished the day 19-for-21 passing for 277 yards and a pair of touchdown passes.
With Florida State 10-0 and ranked second in every major poll, Winston has become the front-runner in the minds of most for the most coveted individual award in all of college football. Winston is completing 71 percent of his passes this season and through 10 games, has thrown for 2,938 yards and 28 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Winston also has three touchdowns on the ground.
Nationally, Winston ranks second in passer rating and yards-per-attempt, fifth in touchdown passes and sixth in completion percentage. Despite being just a redshirt freshman, Winston is the unquestioned leader for Florida State and has proven to be a charismatic and resilient kid.
Though Winston has been proven guilty of nothing, it is possible that Heisman voters could take the pending investigation into consideration when casting their votes. The voters have however in recent history, given the award to players with troubled pasts.
In 2010, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was given the award despite an investigation into whether his father, Cecil Newton, received money from SEC schools in exchange for his son’s commitment. While Cam Newton was found guilty of no wrongdoing, Newton had a troubled past prior to the 2010. As a backup quarterback to eventual Heisman winner Tim Tebow at the University of Florida, Newton was charged with stealing a laptop from another student’s dorm room before ultimately being dismissed for cheating.
After a year in junior college, Newton transferred to Auburn where he led the Tigers to a perfect season and a national championship in 2010. Newton was given the Heisman Trophy despite a rocky history. Not that Newton didn’t deserve the award, he absolutely did. Newton had no run-ins with the law at Auburn and as a professional with the Carolina Panthers, Newton has been nothing, but a model citizen.
If Newton can win the award despite being guilty of theft and cheating years before, Winston should certainly be eligible with nothing criminal formally attached to his rap sheet. Sexual assault is obviously a much bigger deal than theft or cheating on an exam, but as of now, Winston has no publicly known incriminating evidence against him.
Although he was not arrested, Texas A&M sophomore quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel didn’t exactly have an offseason to remember and he is still regarded by some as Winston’s closest competition in the Heisman race. It wasn’t long ago that we wondered how a NCAA investigation into Manziel signing autographs would affect his future. Manziel was cleared and the investigation has become a thing of the past.
While the story broke last Wednesday by TMZ about the FSU quarterback has certainly stolen national headlines and has been the grounds for massive amounts of speculation and scrutiny, it is important for Heisman voters, fans and decent human beings alike to keep some things in mind.
Once again, Winston should be assumed innocent until proven guilty and we should patiently wait for all the facts to surface. It would be unfair to label Winston as some self-entitled, depraved, pampered athlete that believes himself to be above the law. It would also be unfair to label the alleged victim, presumably a college student, as some sort of drunken floozy looking for notoriety at the expense of a big name athlete. There may have legitimately been a sexual assault that took place on that December night in Tallahassee whether or not Winston was the culprit. Until facts are known, something as serious as sexual assault should not be downplayed.
Keep in mind that at the time of the incident, Winston was not a big name athlete either. He was a highly-recruited redshirted quarterback for the football team and a reserve outfielder for Florida State’s baseball team. As long as the investigation is ongoing, all parties should be given the benefit of the doubt including Winston by the Heisman voters. If nothing changes between now and mid-December, the pending investigation should have no barring on Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston’s chances of winning the award. Until then, all that anyone can hope for is a speedy and fair investigation.