In the United States, every citizen is innocent until proven guilty. Such is true in the court room, not necessarily the football field.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is again in the public spotlight for allegedly signing autographs for money, an action that got fellow Heisman Trophy Candidate Todd Gurley suspended from Georgia. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher believes Winston is innocent, and he might be. As the investigation process plays out, though, it’s truly irrelevant.
This is just the latest in a long line of incidents involving Winston. Florida State’s title run almost came to a sudden stop when Winston was being accused of sexual assault. No charges were filed, but any time someone is even accused of rape there is cause for concern.
The Winston plot thickened when the Florida State standout was cited for shoplifting $32 worth of crab legs and crawfish at a grocery store in April. It was in the offseason and as a result, it became a joke more than anything. The penalty: a three-game ban from the baseball team and 20 hours of community service. It was nothing harsh, and the incident became something we shook our heads at instead of actually raising our eyebrows.
In September, Winston notched the hat trick when he was caught shouting obscene sexual phrases on campus. This one was undeniable, as Florida State students took to Twitter to confirm Winston’s latest off-the-field blunder. Winston said his actions were selfish, and it led to a first-half suspension in the Noles’ game against Clemson.
Three’s a charm, but in Winston’s case, a fourth incident followed.
Winston is being investigated by the Florida State athletic compliance department to determine whether the quarterback signed autographs for money. ESPN reported that Winston has signed about 950 items, and if Winston accepted money for the autographs then a suspension and potentially more discipline could very likely follow.
After Crab Legs Gate, I still gave Winston the benefit of the doubt. Alleged sexual misconduct is nothing to look over, but it could simply be a product of Winston’s instant rise to fame, then somebody trying to spoil it. Even after the shoplifting charges were filed, it’s just a college kid having some harmless fun with his buddies. No harm was done, just a lesson there to be learned.
But eventually, a line needs to be drawn. Winston is a public figure, and shouting obscenities in front of the a student crowd should never be under consideration. It shows a poor sense of judgement and self-awareness by Winston. And to that point, believing he could sneak this autograph system past officials and get away with it is extremely immature, and to even try and go through with it in the first place shows again that Winston believes he’s above the pack.
Winston needs to realize he is not invincible. He got past his first incident unscathed thanks to insufficient evidence. The crab led incident turned into a joke before we began to analyze it is as anything more serious. But his sense of entitlement led him to think his actions would not warrant consequence. His immature actions could go without punishment because he’s Jameis Winston, right? Wrong.
Florida State needs to suspend Winston, even if it’s indefinitely, until more details surface about the extent of his latest wrongdoings. But an even biggest concern should be Winston’s future in the NFL.
NFL front-office personnel, general managers, and scouts should be extremely wary of bringing Winston into their organization. Winston was widely considered one of the top two or three quarterbacks entering the 2015 NFL Draft, but spending a first-round pick on a player who frequently is in trouble with the law and the university becomes a major question mark.
Johnny Manziel was a first-rounder, but Manziel’s off-the-field drama extended only as far as partying with LeBron James and gambling in Las Vegas — nothing that was illegal, just frowned upon. Of the four known Winston incidents, two would be in the illegal spectrum and two show how ignorant the young man is. If we didn’t hear Winston’s name again until late April it would already be too soon.
Teams must ignore Winston’s coveted skill-set and remember that the quarterback carries too much baggage away from the grid iron. He’s a talented football player that has yet to mature and needs to be humbled. If I’m a member of an NFL front office, I don’t want to take that big of a challenge in my organization, because not only will it bring immense media attention but has a greater chance of hurting my team more than helping it.
There’s not much Winston can do between now and the NFL draft to help his stock. He can’t just white out his past, and he must hope that investigators discover no actual wrongdoings in this latest autograph fiasco. Otherwise, another red flag makes Winston undraftable in today’s NFL, where off-the-field incidents are no longer being tolerated. Then Winston has to ask himself whether a few dollars in his pocket was worth risking his entire future.