The quarterback of the 10-0, #2 ranked Florida State University football team, Jameis Winston, is being investigated following accusations of rape. Winston, who submitted to a voluntary DNA test earlier this month, is saying the December 2012 incident was consensual. State attorneys are investigating and considering whether or not they have enough evidence to charge him.
You’ll remember from our posts about the Steubenville Ohio rape case and the multiple incidents of rape at the University of Montana that we believe that “entitled, above-the-law, larger-than-life [attitudes], apparently instilled into male athletes as early as high school, lead to more entitlement and more disrespect for women as boys become men” and that “special treatment afforded to athletes that can ill-effect their behavior can also protect them from consequences of that behavior.” Heart-breakingly, I feel like we are a broken record when it comes to talking about this stuff, so I won’t re-hash our old posts further.
I have a theory: the level of entitlement and amount of special treatment is greater when the player is more talented and the stakes are higher. For example, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended six games in 2010 after an incident involving alleged rape of a woman (charges were never brought). Entering the season the Steelers were already considered contenders. At the time of his suspension, ESPN wrote:
There are plenty of championship pieces remaining from that team, including 18 starters, for the Steelers to contend again. The schedule appears to be accommodating. The Steelers play three teams that didn’t make the playoffs this past season — the Falcons, Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans — plus the division rival Baltimore Ravens in their first four games.
Pittsburgh hosts the Cleveland Browns in its fifth game and travels to Miami to face the Dolphins in its sixth game. The Steelers have a bye in Week 5, meaning Roethlisberger might have two weeks to practice before he plays, if his suspension is reduced.
There’s nothing to suggest NFL schedule makers were aware of the length of Roethlisberger’s suspension in advance. Still, the first of the Steelers’ five prime-time games isn’t until Oct. 31 — or after his potential return.
Indeed, the Steelers won the games against Falcons, Bucs and Titans. They lost to the Ravens. And sure enough — citing a change in behavior of course — the NFL reduced Roethlisberger’s sentence to four games, and allowed him to resume practice six days before their Bye Week, or two weeks before their game against the Browns. The Steelers would make it all the way to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers.
You may think I sound a little tin-hatty. But with the amount of money on the line for every football game, is it so hard to believe that someone in the NFL encouraged the organization to bring him back early because he was good at football and his team was good at football? I wish this was as far-fetched as it might sound.
The FSU football team, with Winston at the helm, are undefeated, and have gone from finishing last year ranked #10 to #2. Winston is a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. If he was suspended, what would happen to this exciting narrative? Do you think anyone at FSU, or in the NCAA, would allow that to happen?
I believe as much as anyone that a person is innocent until proven guilty, but if he is charged and the case becomes a “he said she said” battle of credibility (and it likely would, since consent is what’s at issue), can we really expect a jury of Winston’s peers — local Tallahasseeans in the heart of college football country — to ignore a conviction’s impact on the team? Can we expect the prosecutor to present a strong case showing there was no consent beyond a reasonable doubt?
Under these conditions real victims don’t stand a chance. And the statements of the woman’s attorney not only echo this sentiment, but are sadly really not pro-victim at all:
She’s not someone with any interest in ruining the football team. If this victim was interested in notoriety, why would she have not taken any action all this time? Anyone with a brain can see that. It’s ludicrous. It only came out when someone from the press got ahold of this. It’s really ruined her life. There’s no benefit in this to her whatsoever. She’s a good girl, and this is a nightmare. She was trying to move on with her life, and there was no benefit to her.
I guess she has no choice but to try to pre-empt the “money grubbing opportunist” trope that so often characterizes victims in these types of cases. But I wish she would frame the case to the media on the victim’s terms, not go in already on the defensive. And why — WHY — does she need to invoke good girl/bad girl language, as if a woman who, let’s just say, had consensual sex with three other football players and was then raped by the quarterback (not an entirely far-fetched scenario if you think about it) would be any less deserving of justice?
This is a challenge, world. Prove me wrong. However this plays out, let it be just and fair. If he is charged and acquitted, or not charged at all, let it be because the evidence does not support a conviction, let it not smack of side deals and special treatment. And if he is charged and found guilty, let the message not be about his future and his life, but about justice for the victim and a push toward changing rape culture in sports.