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.