By Andrew Skeritt
A misogynistic, vile, expletive punctuated public outburst on Florida State University campus would have been unacceptable for any college student. For the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and FSU starting quarterback Jameis Winston, the outburst was way out of bounds.
Just as FSU has ramped up its kNOw MORE anti-sexual violence campaign, Winston stands on a table in the student union and yells his version of a vulgar, sexual meme that had been making the rounds on social media.
Winston’s stunt was chilling as onlookers stood in disbelief watching the National Championship winner shame them and their university. Students’ tweets dripped with incredulity. How could he? How can we continue to call this Jameis being Jameis? One apologist reasoned that Winston just loves to perform.
To make matters worse, Winston was initially suspended for just the first half of Saturday’s home game against the Clemson Tigers (which FSU won in OT, 23-17). Then, in the face of widespread criticism, FSU suspended Winston for the second half too. Reportedly, interim FSU President Garnett Stokes and Athletic Director Stan Wilcox handed down the stronger suspension because Winston wasn’t forthright in his recollection of what took place in the student union. This is a troubling pattern.
All this must be viewed in the context of Winston’s past behavior and the larger issue of how professional athletes view and treat women. Winston’s actions were not violent, but his words were imbibed with the spirit FSU has belatedly tried to confront with its new anti-sexual violence campaign.
Some say Winston was behaving like a typical college student. Doesn’t his high profile demand a greater level of social responsibility? Over the past few years, Winston has made the news as much for his off-the-field fumbles as much for his heroics between the lines. After a fellow student accused him of sexual assault in 2012, no criminal charges were filed. FSU has reportedly launched a Title IX investigation of that complaint.
Last spring, Winston was caught on videotape shoplifting crab legs from an area Publix supermarket. Winston claimed he just forgot to pay for the items, but the videotape tells a different tale. He was allowed to enter a special program for first time offending shoplifters and complete community service. At the time, Winston, then a member of the FSU baseball team, received a three-game suspension. Still basking in the glory of FSU’s first national title in decades, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher didn’t even bother to punish Winston.
In the end, Winston sat. But only after he showed up in full game uniform and was doing warm-ups even though he was suspended. The Seminoles still won. It was a narrow victory, a scare, but FSU won a bigger moral victory off the field. The Seminoles don’t need Winston to save them. Can they save Winston from himself?
Andrew J. Skerritt was an assistant professor of journalism at Florida A&M University and a former columnist for the St. Petersburg Times. He is the author of “Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South” (Lawrence Hill Books).