published Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Wiedmer: A Heisman we might want to forget

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston talks to reporters after winning the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in New York.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston talks to reporters after winning the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, in New York.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

As is printed elsewhere in this newspaper, I voted Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston No. 1 on my Heisman Trophy ballot.

Turns out I helped Winston win by the fifth largest margin in modern history. Yippeeee!

So why do I feel like I need a shower just thinking about his victory?

Not that my vote came without a great deal of reservation and consternation, given the possible sexual assault charges Winston faced until four days before voting was final. I have two young daughters. The descriptions of what took place in the player's dorm room by his teammates between Winston and the woman -- actions deemed legally acceptable -- would cause any father to blow a gasket.

Yet when the Florida State Attorney's office elected not to continue the investigation for what it termed a lack of evidence to convict -- and following the Heisman Trust's vague voting guidelines as closely as possible -- Winston seemed the most deserving choice from a somewhat average talent pool.

Especially since the Heisman's guidelines mention integrity but fail to reference character, decency or respect for the opposite sex.

And perhaps those noble traits shouldn't be considered. We aren't the morality police. As voters, we're simply and succinctly asked to choose the college football player whose performance, in the words of the Trust, "best exhibits the pursuit of excellence and integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work."

Given those parameters, and the not-so-little fact that most experts believe Winston is the biggest reason the undefeated Seminoles are in the BCS title game opposite Auburn, he probably deserved to win college athletics' most famous individual prize over the rest of the field.

Still, something disturbing happened between those two young adults inside Winston's dorm room that early December night a little more than a year ago. Something they couldn't more strongly disagree on if they tried. To believe the woman, it was something criminal. To believe Winston it was something consensual. For those of us caught in between, unsure of whom or what to believe, it's a controversy the Heisman almost assuredly didn't need.

This is not to say the award's previous victors all doubled as Eagle Scouts. For every Pat Sullivan (1971), Roger Staubach (1963) or Earl Campbell (1977) -- respected winners and citizens all -- there's been a Billy Cannon (1959, later imprisoned for tax evasion), Johnny Rodgers (1972, the only winner convicted of a felony before he won, following a 1970 gas station robbery) and O.J. Simpson (where to begin?).

Again, it's supposed to be about performance on the field as much as possible. Nor should we delude ourselves that whatever happened between Winston and the woman is an anomaly for college students.

To some extent, this exercise plays out every night on campuses the nation over. And not always do the participants part company with a similar interpretation of what took place. Yet in far more cases than not, they simply move along with their lives, a chunk of their innocence lost, a good deal more worldly than their parents would prefer.

That's basically the story Winston and his camp wish to sell. Boys will be boys. Business as usual. Nothing more to see here.

And that opinion is not necessarily untruthful, however unfortunate such behavior by both parties may be for the more conservative among us. It could even be argued -- given the state attorney's decision -- that the legal issues and accusations that have followed this singular encounter are nothing more than payback for a young woman scorned.

But this should also be strongly considered, the words coming from Jennifer Dritt of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence:

Interviewed by Yahoo.com three weeks ago due to the Winston case, Dritt said, "These things [date rape] happen a lot more often than the general public realizes."

To back up her claim, she repeated research that estimates one in eight college women are victims of sexual assault and that one Centers for Disease Control study believes that number is one in six within the Sunshine State.

She also told Yahoo that the global false-accusation rate is between 2 and 7 percent.

"There is really no incentive for people to make false allegations," Dritt said in the article. "It is a grueling process. The physical exam is thoroughly unpleasant. Prosecutions are rare. So people have been dis-incentivized to come forward. So it is really an injustice to assume something didn't happen."

Yet fans of Winston are also fair to ask why the woman apparently failed to pressure the state attorney's office to investigate until after the FSU QB had become a household name. Why did her attorney wait until the day before the Heisman announcement to call a news conference to urge that the case be reopened? And if it isn't reopened (and most legal observers believe it won't be), will there really be a civil action filed against Winston down the road, which would demand a lesser burden of proof to find him guilty of a lesser charge?

Or is all of this mere grandstanding, designed to do nothing more than embarrass the Heisman winner?

We don't know, and it could be nearly a year before we do. That's the window of opportunity the woman has before she's required to file a civil action. By then Winston could be nearing a second Heisman before heading off to a millionaire's life in the NFL.

All that's known today is that whenever a lot of us revisit the Heisman winner of 2013, we may understandably feel the need to take a long, hot, soapy shower.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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