Settlement means Winston accuser will leave a lasting legacy at FSU

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was at the center of a Title IX investigation of the school that has been settled.

Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports

Editor's note: FOXSports.com generally does not identify people who claim they are victims of sexual assault, but Erica Kinsman has shared her story publicly.

More than three years after she first reported being raped, and more than two years after the public learned of the negligence with which authorities reportedly handled her allegations at the time, some good finally has emerged from Erica Kinsman's plight.

USA Today reported Monday that Florida State has settled a Title IX lawsuit brought by Jameis Winston's accuser for $950,000. The school admits no liability but has pledged a five-year commitment to sexual assault awareness, prevention and training programs and will publish annual reports accordingly.

Hopefully, Kinsman's nightmare will prevent others from experiencing the same when reporting sexual assault.

Before going any further, let me be clear that this is not a column about Winston's guilt or innocence, as ultra-defensive Florida State fans instinctively assume. I am not a prosecutor. Both a district attorney and a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice (presiding over a university code of conduct hearing) found a lack of evidence to warrant taking action against him.

Even so, no one should have to experience what Kinsman went through after she made the allegation. She paid the price in the form of widespread shaming that is unfortunately all too common in stories like these. She transferred to another university to avoid it. Her modest payday -- she keeps just $250,000 after withheld legal fees -- can never erase the pain she clearly went through.  

The fault here began with an infuriatingly botched police investigation, which lay dormant for many months before media reports in the fall of 2013 prompted state attorney Willie Meggs to open an investigation. FOX Sports later found that the university police and administration hampered the case by forwarding reports to both the athletic department and Winston's attorney before they got to Meggs. Subsequent media investigations uncovered numerous instances of the Tallahassee Police Department's suspicious handling of a variety of incidents involving FSU players.

The main detective in Kinsman's case, Scott Angulo, admitted to several missteps in a deposition for her lawsuit against the school.

The vitriolic backlash that inevitably follows against the accuser in a rape allegation involving a football star in a college town unfortunately scares away untold victims from reporting an incident. Kinsman has courageously taken her story public, most notably in the documentary "The Hunting Ground," which told the stories of several campus rape accusers whose schools are accused of mishandling their cases. A Department of Education investigation into Florida State is ongoing; as such, the university began making substantial changes to its system of late.

Winston has long since left FSU, becoming the No. 1 pick in last spring's draft and recently completing his rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During his two years as a starter, he led the Seminoles to a 27-1 record, a national championship and College Football Playoff appearance. His legacy at FSU will be that of one of the school's all-time great players.

Kinsman went on to another university, where she's set to graduate this spring, but she has left an altogether different legacy in Tallahassee. Her dogged pursuit of justice will leave a lasting impact, one that will hopefully ensure more responsive treatment for future accusers.

Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter @slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.

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