The Forgotten Woman in the Heisman Trophy Story
Around the State
Was the woman who accused Jameis Winston of sexual assault -- who accuses him still -- watching Saturday night as Winston collected his Heisman Trophy?
Anybody with a daughter would wonder.
Like the women who filed charges against baseball's Johan Santana, basketball's Kobe Bryant and other good-time gladiators in America's over-the-top sports culture, Jameis Winston's accuser will become a footnote tucked away at the end of some Wikipedia hosanna to his career.
Meanwhile, Winston gets a hero's welcome at the Heisman ceremony, and he will again, win or lose, the night he quarterbacks Florida State in its first national championship game in 14 years.
Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News said it well in a Sunday commentary: "Our criminal justice system correctly embraces the concept of innocent until proven guilty. There is reasonable doubt about Winston’s behavior. That mustn’t be enough to put him on trial, throw him in prison, or disqualify him from a job in the NFL. But shouldn’t that exclude him from a nationally televised feting?"
“I knew I did nothing wrong, so I just had to be myself,” Winston said Saturday. “My innocence was proven. God is always going to challenge you. ... People got to know I just love life. ... When I grabbed the trophy, it was like, ‘This is my trophy. I didn’t want to pick it up, I wanted to hug it. I really believe that people trusted in me.”
As it happens, not all of them did trust him. Here's an under-publicized fact: In spite of Winston's landslide vote margin -- 668 first-place votes, fifth-largest victory margin in the modern era over second-place A.J. McCarron -- 13 percent of those who get to vote in the contest left Winston off their ballot. Completely off the ballot, as if he didn't exist. And who gets to decide the Heisman winner? Eight hundred and seventy (870) media people, 57 previous Heisman winners and one fan, for a total of 928 voters.
Now, 13 percent might not sound like a lot, but in the petri dish where college football lives today -- called by ESPN and others "a thriving laboratory for corruption" -- More than 100 Heisman voters actually sided with the woman who filed charges against Winston. That's quite something considering the often ethics-unconscious "Heisman club" still gives O.J. Simpson a vote as a former winner.
I blame all of the authorities in "football crazy" Tallahassee, from the city Police Department to the state attorney's office, for failing to treat the woman as an alleged sexual assault victim and Winston as a suspect in the case. They completely bungled a case that began months ago, then stalled. A case in which Winston's accuser was grilled five times before he was even named as a suspect.
Patricia Carroll, attorney for the woman insisting she was raped, said 152 pages of the state attorney's 248-page investigative file related to her client, including her cellphone records, texts, emails and social-media posts, but only 11 pages contained Winston's name.
She noted that while Winston was identified Jan. 11 by her client as the suspect in the alleged rape, Tallahassee Police Investigator Scott Angulo's first search warrant five days later was for the complainant's cellphone records. No warrant was requested to search Winston's apartment, get his DNA or retrieve his phone records or the phone records of his two friends who witnessed the incident.
The investigation was abandoned by State Attorney Willie Meggs on Dec. 5 -- four days before the Heisman voting deadline. Convenient.
And while I am as unsure as most people what happened the night of Dec. 7, 2012, I know the only reason for my uncertainty is the poor pursuit of evidence in a case where the celebrity of the accused completely overpowered the accuser's inconvenient accounting of the events of that night.
Athletes accused of rape get special treatment everywhere, not just at FSU. For example, not one but two women brought charges against Christian Peter, a student at the University of Nebraska. Though he was convicted, he received only 18 months of probation and kept playing for Nebraska. No criminal charges ever were filed against him, and he went on to play in the NFL.
More examples: In 1999, Alison Jennings said she'd been raped by four players on the Oklahoma State football team. "Criminal charges were never filed, she said, because in the hours following the incident, she had signed a waiver of prosecution after being told by the police that her story had not been corroborated and she did not have a case," Harvey Araton wrote in the New York Times in 2001.
A 2003 article in a Fordham law journal listed rape allegations against football players, often accompanied by Title IX suits, at the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Notre Dame, Indiana University, the University of Mississippi, Iowa State University, Arizona State University, and the University of Georgia. More recently, football players have been accused of sexual assault at UCLA, the U.S. Naval Academy and the University of Connecticut.
Two things bother me now, in the wake of the Heisman winner announcement.
First, most people who know about the case through the national media aren't Florida State fans. They acknowledge his grand accomplishments, but they don't adore Jameis Winston as many Floridians do. All they see is sloppy police work, intentional aversion and cowardice in the incident's aftermath -- an institutional coddling of a prize college athlete. This is bad for Florida, bad for Winston and certainly bad for the young woman who has been through a horrendous ordeal. This botched case in the state capital is just another black mark on Florida.
Second, and more important to me personally, as a mother and grandmother I want to know for absolute sure that police take sexual acts seriously, no matter who the accused is, how many no-hitters he's pitched, basketball records he's shattered, passes he's thrown or how idolized he is by fans.
Thank you to the 29,500 people who have signed an online petition, started by Florida rape survivor Maureen Hamrock, demanding an investigation of the TPD's conduct in this case.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.