With three days left before the 2015 NFL Draft, there’s no player or person more polarizing than Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. He has been more or less the consensus first overall pick for almost two months now and the critics have shifted their gaze to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, wondering how the team could possibly justify taking Winston with the top pick. No other projected first overall pick in NFL history has ever had the off-field issues or character flaws Winston is widely believed to have. So why and how could this happen?
This isn’t the proper venue to discuss the NFL and it’s recent public mishaps with high-profile players and their domestic issues, but to ignore the fact that bigger talent gives you a longer leash in the NFL is naive in the extreme. With that said, it’s important to keep Winston in perspective. To do so, one must separate the elephant-in-the-room sexual assault allegation with everything else he’s done: stealing crab legs from a supermarket, squirrel hunting with BB guns in a trail off-campus, and shouting a vulgar disrespectful online meme.
Looking at these immature incidents through the lens of sexual assault magnifies and warps the issue, unfairly perverting his character into a public menace with a pattern of dangerous behavior and makes finding the truth impossible. Isolating these incidents individually and objectively evaluating them separately is necessary to reveal the thoughts, motives, actions and the truths behind them.
Do they show someone with a penchant for poor judgment and decision making? Someone immature; childish even, but a danger to society? The questions an NFL team and their executives and coaches have to ask themselves is: how do these incidents affect his viability in the league going forward, assuming he’s going to receive millions of dollars with his first NFL contract? Can you trust him? In other words, who is Jameis Winston? A kleptomaniac? A liar? A rapist?
Winston stated last week on ESPN’s Draft Academy he acquired the crab legs through a hookup. It’s still stealing, but if you were to claim 65 percent of college athletes in football and basketball had a hookup for something free or discounted at least one time, someone would balk at the notion and say you were wrong for low-balling it. Does that make it better? Is Winston held to a different, or higher standard? Should he be? Does Winston have an incentive to tell the truth to NFL teams about the crab legs hookup or an incentive to lie to make the stealing seem less serious?
Anyone that has spent time in Tallahassee understands there is an actual squirrel population problem. Having a BB gun fight with friends and shooting out some windows: harmless fun or dangerous foreshadowing? Is there malice behind it? A reckless disregard for the rules? On ESPN’s (Jon) Gruden’s QB Camp show, he explained the vulgar meme by stating he was just trying to be “one of the guys”, a desperate gamble to pretend he was a normal college student. Winston is anything but, and it’s hard to argue with the 1-game suspension he received for it last September considering the context of what was said in regards to the sexual assault allegation. Is Jameis Winston a kid who was trying to pretend the giant hovering microscope of the media didn’t exist, running from the weighted specter that is Famous Jameis? Or a calculating sociopath with a penchant for doing whatever he wants and getting away with it?
NFL teams are forced to go by the facts only, as making inferences based on little knowledge can be exceedingly dangerous. When a player tests positive for smoking marijuana, the NFL can’t just assume the player is a habitual smoker; they need to find out the truth behind the drug use and the person using. Do they have an addictive personality? Was it just a one time mistake?
Indeed, per Mike Freeman of the Bleacher Report, the Buccaneers have reportedly turned Winston into the most investigated NFL athlete of all-time, speaking to over 75 people ranging from relatives to middle and high school friends to the equipment managers and teammates at Florida State and Hueytown, Winston’s High School alma mater in Alabama to coaches, teachers, his parents and the Assistant State Attorney who was involved in the December 2013 State Attorney’s Office investigation into the sexual assault allegation.
Digging to the bottom of the mountain to find out who Jameis Winston is and what he’s capable of, digging to find out how he’s treated the people he has known and not known, unearthing his entire life.
Reportedly, the Buccaneers have not found anything that would dissuade them from taking Winston nor has any NFL team taken Winston off of their draft boards. This is inherently scary for a fan, who is left with no choice but to place their trust in the people who say they have done their homework in trying to find out if Winston is simply immature or a bad person. A fan doesn’t have the same access to all of the information that the team does. How can you second-guess them? How can you not? What if the team is simply looking past his issues because of his talent? How can you ever really know that you can trust him?
Winston has never actually been arrested for a single crime. Is that enough to warrant a second chance? Is it even a second chance?
Winston, as a football player, is generally considered to be a far better on-field prospect than his Oregon counterpart, Marcus Mariota. Winston is regarded by some as the second-best quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning in 1998 after Andrew Luck and perhaps a more naturally gifted passer than Luck but not in the same ballpark polish-wise because of his sloppy mechanics — the same sloppy mechanics that also frame Winston as a player who has yet to reach his ceiling as a passer.
Winston checks every box an NFL team looks for in a quarterback. He is aggressive and fearless, both as a leader and with the football, a boom or bust player that could potentially give you far more boom than bust. But there is a rape allegation out there and a pending civil lawsuit. An allegation that was notably insufficient to even warrant an indictment, much less a conviction and the civil lawsuit is likely to be settled so Winston can move forward with his life. If so, shouldn’t we?
We can only make the best, most educated decision we can with the information we have available at the time. With just days left before the draft, for whatever Winston is: an immature kid who needs to do some growing up or a bomb waiting to go off, or what people think he might become. Whether Winston is a hall of fame caliber bust or a Hall of Famer with a bronze bust — an argument that will surely rage on for years to come — we can say with a fragile certainty that it is more likely than not Winston is neither a criminal nor a rapist. And because of that we can say with rigid certainty Winston should be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Buccaneers’ General Manager Jason Licht recently said he might write a book about his investigation into Winston 25 years from now. What a story that will be.