If you want to know what winning at all costs looks like, watch Florida State face Boston College on Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium with Jameis Winston at quarterback.
Florida State, the reigning national champion and owner of the nation’s longest winning streak (26 games), has thrown a flaming spear through its probity to keep Winston on the field and its team in the hunt for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The undefeated Seminoles (10-0) are currently ranked No. 1 in the old-fashioned Associated Press poll, but are third in the rankings that matter, the College Football Playoff ones.
Florida State should dismiss Winston right now. He is not worth the trouble. He is not worth the victories. He isn’t Famous Jameis, the Heisman Trophy winner, the national championship winner. He is Infamous Jameis, the guy who seems to find trouble and disturbing allegations as easily as he does open receivers.
The most disturbing of those allegations is that he raped a fellow Florida State student in December of 2012. Winston has admitted having sex with his accuser and his DNA was found on her undergarments.
A State Attorney in Florida concluded last December that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Winston, but he does face a student conduct hearing with the school Dec. 2. The hearing could result in serious punishment or expulsion, or even a reopening of the rape case based on his testimony.
I offer removing Winston not as an acerbic columnist, but as a Florida State fan. You don’t end up in this business without being a sports fan first. If you weren’t, it would be untenable. There is no other team that I enjoy as much of an emotional connection with as Florida State.
The first time I saw those shimmering golden helmets and a swaggering Deion Sanders my college football allegiance was sealed. I’ve shed tears, sweat, and dates rooting on the ’Noles through more than two decades and three national championships. I’ve never felt as bad about doing so as I do right now.
Florida State and its fans have to hold their noses and apologize for enjoying their victories because they are tainted by the Faustian college football bargain the school has made to keep Winston, the incomparable redshirt sophomore quarterback, on the field.
It would be a lie to say I root against Florida State with Winston. It would also be a lie to say that I enjoy rooting for them the way I once did.
It’s because of the excellent investigative reporting done by the New York Times and Fox Sports showing an apparent bias towards Florida State football players in the Tallahassee (Fla.) Police Department and a university that goes into scramble mode to protect its most valuable assets — football players.
Florida State admitted in October in an open letter that it helped Winston obtain an attorney when the rape allegation resurfaced last year and didn’t notify the school’s Title IX coordinator of the case, which is a violation of federal law. Fox Sports reported in October that copies of the police report from the alleged incident were in the hands of Florida State administrators and Winston’s attorney before they went to Willie Meggs, the State Attorney charged with determining whether he should be prosecuted.
That sounds like the wheels of justice being thrown into reverse. The rape allegation is the most serious of Winston’s wrongdoing since arriving in Tallahassee. But he has a laundry list of incidents that range from puerile to criminal.
(Welcome to major college football, where getting paid for signing your name is high treason, but various other real-word misdeeds are brushed off like dryer lint.)
He was part of a BB and pellet-gun shooting match in November of 2012 that caused $4,000 worth of damage to an apartment building. In July of 2013, he allegedly used a Burger King soda fountain without paying. Last April he was caught on video shoplifting crab legs from a Tallahassee supermarket. After that incident, he was suspended from the baseball team, which he also plays for, but received no suspension from football coach Jimbo Fisher.
This September, Winston was reported by fellow students for jumping on a table and repeating a vulgar Internet meme regarding copulation. He was initially suspended for the first half of the Clemson game, but it was extended to the entire game after FSU’s then-interim president, Garnett S. Stokes, decided Winston had not been completely honest about the incident.
It was the first real football punishment for Winston, and it came from a woman willing to do what sports-crazed men would not.
With Winston, Florida State has done a remarkable job of escaping defeat. Florida State is the first team since UCLA in 2005 to win three games in which it trailed by 15 or more points, rallying against North Carolina State, Louisville, and Miami. In the second half of games, FSU has outscored its opponents, 204-101.
Winston is 23-0 as a starter. You wonder if his ability to wriggle out of trouble off the field is fueling his ability to do it on the field, or if it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s hard for a 20-year-old who has never suffered a setback in college not to feel entitled and invincible.
Maddeningly, Winston has been mawkishly praised for overcoming “adversity.” Sorry, it’s not overcoming adversity if you created it.
Winston’s play this season has not been nearly as good as his Heisman campaign. He is completing 65.8 percent of his passes and has thrown 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Last season, he completed 66.9 percent of his passes and threw 40 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.
Whether he is playing for Florida State or not, Winston is going to be an NFL quarterback. He has too much talent and there are too many teams looking for a signal-calling savior that will overlook his spotty conduct.
But Florida State should move on before it loses something more important than a football game — dignity.