I started out thinking that this blog was going to be a parody of sorts of the dark humor beyond the circumstances of the various antics of Jamie Winston, the Florida State star quarterback and last year’s Heisman Trophy winner. I found it particularly humorous that two years after Mr. Winston was accused of rape by another FSU student followed by a botched criminal investigation, his arrest for shoplifting at a local Publix grocery store, and the recent uttering of a swear word on campus, the only punishment meted out for any misconduct was, until yesterday, suspension for the first half of today’s football game because he said a bad word. Perhaps, it was more drastic than simply washing his mouth out with soap, but not much. When the public outrage clamored for more, the suspension was increased yesterday to a full game! This is a Tom-like joke. It’s not funny and no one is laughing, (not even me).
In the alleged rape case, as reported by the New York Times, the police did not follow the leads that would have quickly identified Mr. Winston as the suspect and witnesses, one of whom videotaped part of the sexual encounter. After the accuser identified Mr. Winston as her assailant, the police made no attempt to interview him for nearly two weeks and never obtained his DNA. The detective handling the case waited two months to write his first report and then suspended his inquiry without informing the accuser. By the time the prosecutor got the case, important evidence had disappeared, including the video of the sexual act. The detective also told the complainant's attorney that because Tallahassee was a big football town, her client would be “raked over the coals” if she pursued the case.
In the shoplifting case, Mr. Winston was first arrested and it was reported as such, then the police department claimed that it was not an arrest, and he was given a ticket and sentenced to three or four hours of community service. Publix’s usual policy is to prosecute all shoplifters as a deterrent, but for some strange reason, it refused to do so in this case.
This Winston scenario occurred as professional football, colleges and universities across the country face rising criticism over how they deal with physical and sexual assaults as well as questions about whether athletes sometimes receive preferential treatment.
The upshot is that prominence of football (collegiate and professional) and the celebrity of its star players are so all-encompassing they tend to overwhelm all other considerations. It’s been disgusting to see the ways in which the focus on episodes that started with assaults on young children and women has been turned from these victims to the impact on powerful men who have hurt them. A lot of time and energy is spent on what we should do or feel most recently about Jamie Winston, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and even Roger Goodell, the hapless NFL commissioner. Perhaps the best example of this has been the nearly forgotten Penn State episode. Penn State was just restored to active status in collegiate football after what is referred to as the “Sandusky” thing. To briefly reiterate, Sandusky, a vital part of the Penn State football program, abused innocent young boys sexually for more than a decade while others, including the legendary Joe Paterno, silently ignored the situation because of the damage it might do to the football program. When it all came out, the student body at Penn State conducted a candlelight vigil outside the Paterno home in sympathy for his plight, the NFL equivalent of that public reaction being the women wearing Rice football jerseys in moral support of Rice’s conduct.
The thing that emerges from all this is that we now have a clear understanding of the football power brokers’ priorities. NFL officials reacted, as did Paterno, with little more than a shrug when the video of Rice battering his fiancée or the reports of Peterson bloodying his little boy first surfaced and only went into action when sponsors threatened boycotts if the league didn’t act. The public bears responsibility here as well. The word on the street, I have heard it often, is that blacks do beat their children and wives and Rice’s and Peterson’s behaviors must be considered within that broader context.
To date, the message has been loud and clear. To paraphrase the current response "Inaction does speak louder than words." In the eyes of college and NFL’s decision-makers and football fans, it’s no great crime to rape little kids or susceptible college girls, beat up a woman or a child. But if a player damages the brand, that’s another matter altogether. Particularly if a player tells the world he is gay. Just ask Michael Sam. At last report, an anti-gay group is planning to protest the Dallas Cowboys after the team signed the openly gay football star onto its practice squad.
Just saying . . .