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Florida State University’s Rape Problem: Football First, Morals Later

| April 19, 2014

The moral lines are blurrier. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

The moral lines are blurrier. (State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory)

The last time we visited Jameis Winston in this space, the Florida State quarterback was on the verge of winning the Heisman Trophy and his team was on the cusp of a national championship. It had also come to light that Winston, a redshirt freshman, had been accused of rape in 2012, while the Tallahassee cops pursued the case with something less than investigative zeal. In December, State Attorney Willie Meggs announced that he had no choice but to drop the case against Winston, as evidence that should easily have been collected within days or even hours of the rape complaint had withered away with the passage of time.

Now, thanks to an exhaustive investigation by The New York Times, we are learning quite a bit more about this saga. We now know that Tallahassee cop Scott Angulo, who told the alleged victim shortly after the incident that “Tallahassee is a big football town” as a way of warning her of the consequences of pressing charges, has made part of his living doing security work for the Seminoles Boosters–“a non-profit organization, with nearly $150 million in assets, that is the primary financier of Florida State athletics,” according to the Times. In other words, while on the payroll of the local police force, and assigned to investigate a rape allegation against a Seminole, Argulo had also been paid to protect FSU athletes and coaches. That’s a pretty cozy arrangement.

Perhaps stung by the criticism he received in the wake of his decision not to pursue charges against Winston—and criticism of the oddly jocular press conference at which he announced the decision—Meggs, a Florida State alumnus, unburdened himself to the Times. Lambasting the Tallahassee PD’s “investigation,” Meggs told the paper, “They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do.”

I won’t take up space here recounting all of Angulo’s shoddy police work—you’ll need to read the entire Times article to truly appreciate how shamefully this case was handled. Along the way, you will also read about how cavalierly other young women are treated at FSU if they have the temerity to press a rape complaint. As for the accusation against Winston, the Tallahassee PD’s bungling, dawdling inquiry has not only denied a young woman her right to make her case before a jury, it has also ensured that we—as well as his presumptive future employers in the NFL–will never really know whether or not Jameis Winston is a rapist.

Lately, the news has been full of stories about college football players forming unions and March Madness heroes not having enough to eat. Meanwhile we are assailed by the tiresome Greek chorus of those who insist that big-time college athletes need to be paid, and the stooges at the NCAA who never miss an opportunity to use the term “student-athletes” when discussing higher education’s mercenaries.

But focusing on this narrow debate misses the point entirely. The Winston revelations are one more reminder of just how far universities and their apologists are willing to go to protect the multibillion-dollar enterprise that we call “college sports.” Glaringly absent from the Times’s magazine-length story on the Winston case is the voice of anyone in the Florida State administration expressing any outrage over the treatment of Winston’s accuser. Not even a canned quote from a spokesman expressing sympathy for her. But you don’t have to search for very long to find FSU extolling the achievements of Winston, and beaming at how much he has done for the school and for student morale.

College presidents constantly remind us, while we blanch at Alabama coach Nick Saban’s $5 million salary and Oregon’s $68 million football facility (complete with a 300-foot wall of TVs and a weight room gilded in Brazilian hardwood floors), that a winning team more than pays off in increased admissions applications and more alumni largesse. Strictly in terms of dollars it may be true. But what is the larger cost of a university’s silence in protecting a star student-athlete when the accuser is a mere student?

And, of course, what is the cost to the women at Florida State—and the parents who send them there–who surely can have no illusions about what will happen if they dare to cry rape?

The pattern, of course, at universities that are essentially owned by their sports programs is that no reform takes place until there is a major disaster. In the mid-’80s, not until a sitting governor of Texas admitted to his role in a slush fund for players did Southern Methodist lose its football program for two years. More recently, it took the conviction of a coach as a serial child molester to force Penn State to examine the football program’s stranglehold on a fine university.

Lest we forget, college presidents are fund-raisers and cheerleaders first, and educators a distant second. So it’s hardly surprising that a mere student would get the back of the hand when the brave response would have been to call for an independent inquiry into the events of that December night. But I couldn’t resist a double-take at one, almost parenthetical, sentence in the Times report: Florida State President Eric Barron is leaving the school for another job. He has been hired as president at Penn State.

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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15 Responses for “Florida State University’s Rape Problem: Football First, Morals Later”

  1. Florida Native. says:

    Winston is guilty and the FSU Boosters and Leon County State’s Attorney knows it. Bobby Bowden was in bed with the Boosters as well as the State’s Attorney’s Office for 30 plus years. This is the Leon County/FSU/State’s Attorney’s Mafia. This has been going on for years. Heads are going to roll with this story. They didn’t bring charges and try him in court because they knew he was guilty and couldn’t take the chance without a change of venue and they didn’t want to gamble. Hopefully he will stand trial,be found guilty, and have to give the Heisman Trophy back. Go Gators!

    • Craig Cavaliere says:

      There was no need for a Go Gators comment. And I am a UF alum. ESPN did an expose on what went on in Alachua county regarding Aaron Hernandez while at UF. So this isn’t just an FSU problem. It goes on everywhere.

      • 216 says:

        Absolutely right. This does not have to do with one school versus another. This is all schools and a question of what our real priorities are.

    • I doubt any heads will roll. IMHO this is a story that has already ended.

  2. Outsider says:

    I have to agree with you. It seems like institutions of higher learning have less and less zeal for, well, higher learning. It’s all about the money. My daughter has thoughts of going to UF and is fairly accomplished in her sport, but rumor has it the powers that be there have no interest in having a team because it doesn’t bring in millions of dollars. I thought education was supposed to be educating and developing the person. I have no illusion that that is true.

  3. karma says:

    I think more people are upset with Tim Tebow because he wore a bible verse under his eyes than with Winston.

  4. Leo says:

    Personally I don’t give a rats petunia about college sports. I that girl was “really” raped and not trying to pull attention to herself like some many have over the years, then perhaps her family should just take JUSTICE into their on hands and do what has to be down.

  5. RHWeir says:

    There is no way WInston should be playing NCAA football or even walking the streets without a trial and possible long term jail time. Every time I see him on the sports or news, all I think is possible rapist.

  6. FLa res. says:

    Im not at all taking up for the guy, if he did it then he should be punished. People talk about the shotty police reporting and investigation. What if he didnt do it? The bad policing is hurting Winston because if it was investigated properly and he is not guilty then it would have been proven!!

    • Orlando All Sports says:

      You are spot on. I believe there will be a civil case and we may get more answers that will conclude Winston’s innocence or guilt.

  7. Bridgetender69 says:

    If the investigation was messed up from the beginning let the Police Chief fire this guy and let him work for the Boosters. The State Attorney identified a lack of making a good case. When is the management of the TPD to be looked at?

  8. Florida Native. says:

    @ Craig Cavaliere. You might want to rethink your comment. I’m a UF alum as well but that’s neither here nor there. There is one glaring difference. Aaron Hernandez is facing life in prison and Jameis Winston probably committed rape and is still free to rape and plunder as he chooses for the time being. I’m confident he will be convicted and get the minimum 15 years he deserves.

  9. ryan says:

    I am glad it is not being called racist that he was accused of rape. I have seen other cases where that has occurred like the story about the kids who robbed the delivery driver. All that does is cause problems. As a Liberal, I am tired of seeing people take advantage of the race card. Ones actions, not color, are all that matters, not whose opinion is not validated by facts. The media needs to put more pressure to continue the investigation to ensure that the accusations are valid. If they turn out to be false, the media should report that the fake victim made it up, but if they are accurate, then the victim’s rights need to be respected and the process of filing charges and preparing for trial should begin.

    • Steve Wolfe says:

      Bravo, Ryan. MLK suggested judging by character rather than color, as you ascribe to. I wish MLK’s words were still ringing in the public discourse. Unfortunately, the race card is so often played it has become ear wax. The lesson you are alluding to is substance over B.S. I’m right there with you.

      My comment about the story is aligned with Steve. Collegs sports have far too much influence over the entirety of college issues. Everything else suffers in the shadow of the sports programs. I have no suggestions. I’m not that smart. It’s apparent to me that college sports are the farm teams for the pros, and the money is used to support the reputation for the school’s relevance in that niche. When added to alumni pressure and other factors it smothers all else. I would advise all female prospective students who trult seek education to look to schools with less of a sports footprint.

  10. Sherry Epley says:

    The bottom line here. . . as with all other situations. . . Where big money goes, so does corruption and moral decay! Jameis could be completely innocent, but we will never know. This miscarriage of justice for the girl as well as Jameis is all about the outrageous amounts of money paid by media outlets for college AND professional sports coverage!

    Those enormous pay outs to professional athletes and even coaches taint the entire world of sports! Where will it all end??

    Yes, young men and women desiring a real education should attend colleges where the focus is more on education and less on big moneyed sports.

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